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Dear GreenYessers: if you'd like Word or PDF versions of this press release,
or accompanying graphics in an Excel file, please visit CRI's home page to
view and/or download: www.container-recycling.org.
Feel free to use this information in your own press releases or newsletters;
we only ask that you attribute CRI. Contact me or Pat for further info!
PRESS RELEASE FOLLOWS:
For Immediate Release
May 24, 2004
Contacts: Jenny Gitlitz: (413) 684-4746, Pat Franklin: (703) 276-9800
Aluminum Beverage Can Waste Passes the "One Trillion" Mark
Recycling rate drops to lowest point in 25 years
Washington, D.C.?Recent data reveal that over one trillion aluminum soft
drink and beer cans have been thrown in the trash?not the recycling
bin?since Americans began buying cans 40 years ago.*
"Whether buried in landfills, burned in incinerators, or strewn as litter
along country roads, beaches, farmlands, parks, and other public places,
these trashed cans represent a lost opportunity to recycle millions of tons
of valuable aluminum metal, said Pat Franklin, executive director of the
Container Recycling Institute (CRI), a nonprofit organization located in
The Institute estimates that 1,010,000,000,000 (= 1trillion, 10 billion)
cans have been wasted since 1972, when the industry started keeping records.
Stacked end-to-end, these wasted cans would extend 76 million miles, a
distance equivalent to 158 round trips to the moon. According to CRI, a
trillion wasted cans weigh in at 17.5 million tons: a quantity of scrap
aluminum worth about $21 billion at today¹s market prices.
"The cumulative environmental damage from the failure to recycle this metal
is the real issue,² said Franklin, ³not the buried tonnage or the dollar
value of the wasted cans. Very few Americans realize that while we are
trashing millions of tons of cans that could be used to make new cans,
multinational companies like Alcoa and Alcan are forging ahead to build
brand new aluminum smelters in pristine environments all over the world."
According to CRI research director Jenny Gitlitz, "New smelters are being
constructed in the Brazilian rainforest, on fertile lands in Mozambique, and
in the heart of Europe's largest remaining wilderness: the Vatnakoejull
Glacier in Iceland. One of these smelters might produce 300,000 tons of
aluminum per year, less than half of what thirsty Americans toss in the
garbage can each year."
"Over the last four decades," said Gitlitz, "the damages from aluminum
manufacturing and associated infrastructure include thousands of square
miles of habitat loss on every major continent, the displacement of tens of
thousands of indigenous people, and the emission of tens of millions of tons
of greenhouse gasses and other toxic air and water pollutants."
"Thirty years ago, we were full of optimism about the potential of recycling
and so many other environmental programs," said Denis Hayes, organizer of
the first national Earth Day in 1972 and president of the Bullitt
Foundation, "It is extremely disappointing to see the ground being lost,
rather than gained, when it comes to aluminum cans."
According to Franklin, the U.S. beverage can recycling rate has been
declining since 1992, while the environmentally friendly public image of the
can persists. "Only 44% of the cans sold in 2003 were recycled," she said.
"This rate is the lowest it¹s been since 1980, but industry websites
continue to trumpet numbers from the glory days when '2 out of 3' cans were
recycled. The aluminum companies and their trade associations tout the
'recyclability' of cans, but don't tell the public that 55 billion cans--
more than half of those sold--are not being recycled. And of course the
environmental effects of aluminum manufacturing are carefully hidden from
"Replacing the estimated 820,000 tons of cans wasted in 2003 with new cans
made from virgin materials will unnecessarily consume the energy equivalent
of 26 million barrels of crude oil, and will generate over 3.4 million tons
of greenhouse gas emissions," Gitlitz said.
"Ironically, the trillionth can wasted coincides with the 40th anniversary
of the aluminum beverage can," Gitlitz said. "In failing to recycle more
than one trillion cans in the last 40 years, we have squandered the energy
equivalent of over 550 million barrels of crude oil: enough to supply the
total residential energy needs of about 35 million American homes.
Replacing these wasted cans with new cans made from bauxite ore and
electricity has also produced over 70 million tons of greenhouse gas
Changing consumer habits are partially responsible for the rising tide of
container waste, explained Gitlitz. "In 1992 when aluminum can recycling
peaked at 65%, people were still doing most of their food and beverage
consumption--and their recycling--at home. More people eat and drink on the
go today, and as a result, the aluminum can recycling rate has dropped well
"Access to curbside recycling has tripled over the last 12 years," Gitlitz
said, "but residential recycling programs simply can't be expected to target
all the beverages being consumed away from home."
"The recycling picture is getting worse, not better, but it could be turned
around," she said. "We could achieve a recycling rate of 80-90% with a
national bottle bill."
According to Franklin, "Beverage container deposit laws, or 'bottle bills,'
exist in eleven U.S. states, and the 5¢ or 10¢ refundable deposit on
beverage bottles and cans routinely achieves recycling rates of 70% to 95%."
"But the soft drink, beer, and grocery industries use their political clout
to lobby against deposit systems, preferring taxpayer-funded residential
programs. Until the beverage companies and bottlers come forward and take
responsibility for their beverage cans, the waste will continue and
taxpayers will foot the bill," said Franklin.
# # #
About the Container Recycling Institute (CRI):
CRI is a 501(c)3 non-profit national organization that studies
beverage container sales and recycling trends, and promotes policies to
reverse wasting. CRI provides technical information and analysis to
students, activists, policymakers, and the media. The organization is
supported primarily by foundations, with support from businesses,
organizations and individuals.
Experts available for interview:
Jenny Gitlitz: home office (413) 684-4746; cell (413) 822-0115;
Pat Franklin: office (703) 276-9800; cell (703) 304-3546;
*The first disposable all-aluminum cans were marketed in 1964, but the
Aluminum Association, an industry trade group, only began collecting sales
and recycling data in 1972. Since 1990, the Container Recycling Institute
has used U.S. Department of Commerce data to adjust the Aluminum Association
recycling rate to account for imported scrap cans (cans not originally sold
in the United States). This adjustment is consistent with the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency Office of Solid Waste¹s method of
calculating recycling rates for other materials in the wastestream. Details
on the calculation methods, total number of cans wasted, and environmental
impacts cited here are available from CRI.
Research Director, Container Recycling Institute
2 Pomeroy Ave.
Dalton, MA 01226
Tel. (413) 684-4746
Mobile: (413) 822-0115
Fax: (413) 403-0233
Container Recycling Institute headquarters:
1911 N. Ft. Myer Dr. #702
Arlington, VA 22209-1603
Tel. (703) 276-9800
Fax: (703) 276-9587
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