Aluminum is often held up as the poster child of recycling, but there is a lot of room for improvement in how we dispose of it.
Aluminum can be completely recycled. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, just 35 percent of all aluminum food and beverage containers are recycled.
While there are regular discussions about the environmental harms caused by plastic and the need for increased plastic recycling, conversations about aluminum are few and far between. This is not good for the aluminum recycling rate. People need to understand the damage caused by aluminum before they will feel the drive to ensure they recycle their own cans, foil, and other products. Here are seven things to know about aluminum recycling:
- Aluminum is one of the most littered items in the United States. According to a study by Keep America Beautiful, aluminum cans are littered more often than plastic beverage containers with beer cans being the most littered beverage container.
- If a can is not recycled, new aluminum must be harvested. Aluminum production is incredibly harmful to the environment because the ore used in the metal, bauxite, is harvested from open-face strip mines in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
- Bauxite mining stirs up thick red dust that coats nearby communities, kills vegetation, and pollutes rivers. The red dust from the bauxite mines can be detrimental to the health of those nearby. Bauxite mines have been tied to cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and blood disorders.
- Aluminum production releases perfluorocarbon (PFC) emissions. PFCs have a global warming potential 9,200 times that of carbon dioxide emissions.
- Aluminum cans release twice as much carbon dioxide during production as a plastic bottle.
- Aluminum takes up to 500 years to decompose in a landfill.
- Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely. A can in use today can be recycled time and time again without losing any purity or strength.
When aluminum is properly recycled, it prevents the need for new aluminum ore to be ripped from the ground as nearby communities suffer. The truth about aluminum’s dirty history can encourage others to make sure their beverage cans end up where they belong.
If every American recycles just one extra can per week, we can increase the aluminum recycling rate by 14 percent and keep roughly 282,000 tons of aluminum out of landfills.