Solid Waste & Recycling


Misleading aluminum recycling data exposed

Following up on a news release from the Aluminum Association touting a small increase in the recycling rate for alu...

Following up on a news release from the Aluminum Association touting a small increase in the recycling rate for aluminum cans, the Athens, Georgia-based Container Recycling Institute (CRI) recently issued a follow-up news release of its own that states: “New calculations suggest that the reported increase in [used beverage containers] UBC ‘collection’ from 2003 to 2004 was due in part to the increase in the redemption value of beverage cans in California. The higher value resulted in 680 million more cans collected and recycled in California last year than in 2003.

According to the CRI, the increase in imported used aluminum beverage cans also contributed to the increased recovery rate.

This discovery is ironic, in that the beverage industry generally promotes curbside recycling programs over deposit-refund schemes, yet it’s the success of the latter that accounts for the small improvement in aluminum collection.

The Aluminum Association, a Washington trade group, reported that the U.S. aluminum can recycling rate had risen from 50.0 per cent in 2003 to 51.2 per cent in 2004, and that cans collected for recycling had increased by 1.6 billion during that time. Sales remained roughly constant at 100 billion units.

CRI research director Jenny Gitlitz says, “42 per cent of this reported increase occurred in California as a result of the CRV [California Redemption Value] going from 2 to 4 cents in January 2004.” This led to an increase of 680 million cans recycled over 2003 levels. “The higher CRV was clearly a factor in raising the California UBC recycling rate from 70 per cent in 2003 to 75 per cent in 2004,” she says.

According to CRI, 30 per cent of the reported recycling increase occurred because 490 million more scrap cans were imported into the United States in 2004 than in 2003.

Executive director Pat Franklin explains,” Since these imported scrap cans have been counted in the recycling rates of Canada, Mexico, and other foreign countries, it’s double-counting to also include them in the U.S. domestic recycling rate. The U.S. EPA does not includes imported scrap in the domestic recycling rate.”

Together, these two factors account for 72 per cent of the reported increase of 1.6 billion cans recovered. “We applaud the public education and special programming promoted by the aluminum and beverage industries to increase recycling,” says Gitlitz, “but it is clear that the lion’s share of the slight increase last year was due to factors other than public education and special programs.”

For more information, contact:

Jenny Gitlitz (research director), 413-684-4746

Pat Franklin (executive director), 703-276-9800

1601 North Kent Street #803
Arlington, VA 22209

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