Industry recycling of aluminum beverage containers in the US continued its decade-long upward trend in 2012 with a rate of 67 percent, according to data released by the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI).
This is the highest recycling rate since the early 1990s and the second highest rate reported since the survey began in 1972, the groups say. However, it’s not the seven-percentage-point jump the industry saw the year prior, when the US recycling rate for aluminum beverage containers grew from 58.1 percent in 2010 to 65.1 percent in 2011. Still, the 2012 rate marks progress toward the industry’s goal of 75 percent recycling by 2015, the groups say.
The new rate means that in 2012, the aluminum can industry recycled some 62 billion domestic and imported cans while shipping 92 billion cans in the US. The energy saved from this recycling equaled 19 million barrels of crude oil.
The increase in the industry’s recycling rate in recent years has been driven largely by the addition of cans imported into the US, the groups say. Because of the closed-loop aspect of aluminum can recycling, and aluminum’s significantly higher inherent value in the recycling stream, used cans easily cross borders and are extremely attractive for recycling.
US recyclers often import cans from Mexico, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Poland and other countries, according to the industry groups. In 2012 alone, the industry imported and recycled close to 13 billion cans, nearly double the amount imported just five years ago.
Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, says the increased recycling rate for aluminum cans is representative of the growth in the scrap recycling industry as a whole. Wiener says the US scrap recycling industry grew from $54 billion in sales in 2009 to more than $90 billion in 2012.
According to the industry groups, it takes just 5 percent of the energy to produce recycled aluminum versus primary aluminum. At the same time, nearly $900 million worth of aluminum cans don’t make it to the recycling bin each year and instead end up in landfills.
Last month, aluminum producer Alcoa bought beverage can recycling company Evermore Recycling, which it says is the world’s biggest purchaser of recycled cans.
Earlier this month Novelis completed its two-year, $400 million expansion program in South Korea that includes the largest aluminum beverage can recycling center in Asia, the company says.