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Dear Steve and John,
Perhaps our recent press release on the environmental damages inherent in
aluminum production and use was not clear enough. Let me try to clarify a
First of all, it was not at all CRI's intent to imply that other container
materials are without their own problems. Yes, glass is heavy to transport
and has recycling market problems. PET is a petroleum product, with
god-knows-what pollution problems inherent in its manufacture (subject for a
future paper, future email).
But aluminum far and away is THE most energy-intensive container, unit for
unit (not just lb for lb) of all the alternatives, and (other pollutants
aside) it generates the most greenhouse gasees:
(These are my calcs. Anyone who wants to dissect them, please write me
Because primary aluminum production requires electricity--not just any old
energy that's lying around--it is particularly damaging because of where the
electricity is generated: increasingly in environmentally-sensitive,
irreplaceable river systems in the tropics, even in Iceland. The pollutants
from bauxite mining are awful. PLEASE go to CRI's website to read more about
What your email below did not mention as a choice is refillable PET plastic
bottles. These are superior to refillable glass (more durable and lighter
weight), and are in widespread use in Europe and Scandinavia. It is the U.S.
beverage industry's choice not to adopt this alternative in the United
States; it is their choice to remain wedded to environmentally-destructive
one-way containers of all types (not just cans). PLEASE read more about the
environmental and economic aspects of adopting refillable PET bottles at
ILSR/GRRN's excellent site:
Well, that's all I have time for right now. Please do keep us in the loop if
you ever do make a determination about which container choice is "better."
Frommy perspective, aluminum cans are by no means "the best" available
alternative. Rather, they should be shunned, ESPECIALLY with recycling rates
as deplorable as the one just announced by the AA this week: 52%.
Container Recycling Institute
Jenny¹s Home Office:
2 Pomeroy Ave.
Dalton, MA 01226
Tel. (413) 684-4746
Mobile: (413) 822-0115
Fax: (413) 403-0233
Main office, Container Recycling Institute
1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Suite 800
Washington, D.C. 20036-1904
Fax: (202) 263-0949
On 5/18/06 3:11 PM, "Reindl, John" <Reindl@no.address> wrote:
> Hi Steve ~
> Great points.
> Do you have a life cycle assessment or inventory with the corresponding
> environmental valuations so that we can see which alternative is "better"?
> We are doing such an evaluation for the recycling of glass containers for the
> Wisconsin Governor's Task Force on Waste Materials and Recovery
> <http://www.wasteresources.wi.gov/) > and it would be very timely and
> helpful for us to see other such valuations.
> John Reindl, Recycling Manager
> Dane County Dept of Public Works
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address]On Behalf
>> Of Stephen N Weisser
>> Sent: Thursday, May 18, 2006 2:00 PM
>> To: 'Jenny Gitlitz'; firstname.lastname@example.org; GreenYes@no.address
>> Subject: [GreenYes] OK...but, alternative? aluminum cans still the best
>> choice RE: [GreenYes] The Aluminum Can's Dirty Little Secret: CRI-IRN news
>> Industries in general need to be more responsible and good points are raised
>> What disapoints me is that at quick glance this appears to me and I assume
>> to most people that an aluminum can is bad - but what's the alternative?
>> Aside from refillable bottles...I still think the best beverage container is
>> aluminum over plastic (not a closed loop) and over glass (loosing value,
>> some recycling programs are slashing glass, and some of it is broken and not
>> sorted from commingled programs.)
>> Correct me if I'm wrong that plastic, glass, and aseptic are not better
>> choices when you look at overall life cycle. The aluminum industry sounds
>> like they have some work to do...But it's still the best choice.
>> Granted it's a personal issue that I'm tired of looking at plastic bottle
>> litter and that PA needs a bottle bill. When I see an aluminum can laying
>> on the street I know someone will pick it up to cash it in...The plastic
>> bottles just lay there.
>> Steve Weisser
>> From: GreenYes@no.address [mailto:GreenYes@no.address] On
>> Behalf Of Jenny Gitlitz
>> Sent: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 6:34 PM
>> To: email@example.com; GreenYes@no.address
>> Subject: [GreenYes] The Aluminum Can's Dirty Little Secret: CRI-IRN news
>> FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 17, 2006
>> CONTACT: Jenny Gitlitz, CRI Research Dir., Dalton, MA (413) 684-4746
>> Pat Franklin, CRI Executive Dir., Washington, DC (703) 276-9800
>> Glenn Switkes, IRN Latin America Dir., Sao Paolo, Brazil
>> Peter Bosshard, IRN Policy Dir., Berkeley, CA (510) 8481155
>> The Aluminum Can's Dirty Little Secret:
>> On-going Environmental Harm Outpaces the Metal's "Green" Benefits
>> WASHINGTON, DC (May 17, 2006)? Industry "greenwashing" obscures the real
>> environmental costs of aluminum production, according to the Container
>> Recycling Institute (CRI) and the International Rivers Network (IRN), two
>> non-profit environmental organizations.
>> According to CRI executive director Pat Franklin, optimistic data released
>> yesterday by the Aluminum Association, an industry trade group, has a dark
>> side. "The Association reported an increase of less than one percentage
>> point in the national aluminum can recycling rate?from 51.2 to 52.0
>> percent," she said, "but they failed to mention that we still are trashing
>> 800,000 tons of aluminum beverage cans a year." Franklin said this was
>> equivalent to the annual output of 3-4 major primary aluminum smelters.
>> "Frankly, I was surprised to see how slight the increase was, given the
>> record-breaking prices for scrap aluminum cans in 2005," she noted, adding
>> that the actual number of cans collected last year (51.4 billion) was 100
>> million fewer than the number collected in 2004 (51.5 billion).
>> The beverage and aluminum industries tout the can as "the most recyclable"
>> package in America, said Jennifer Gitlitz, CRI research director. "But
>> recyclable doesn't necessarily mean recycled. More than half of the 99
>> billion cans sold in the U.S. last year were landfilled or incinerated."
>> Gitlitz said a similar amount wasn't recycled in other countries, for a
>> global total of about 1.5 million tons of wasted cans.
>> "These trashed cans must be replaced with new cans made entirely from virgin
>> materials," Gitlitz said, "and that is where the environmental damage
>> She cited bauxite mining and processing as a major source of water
>> pollution. "Each ton of aluminum cans requires 5 tons of bauxite ore to be
>> strip-mined, crushed, washed, and refined into alumina before it is
>> smelted," she explained. "The process creates about 5 tons of caustic red
>> mud residue which can seep into surface and groundwater," said Gitlitz.
>> People and animals have suffered from the effects of bauxite mining in
>> Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and other tropical areas, she noted.
>> "We're talking about immense energy consumption," said Gitlitz. "3% of the
>> electricity generated worldwide goes to aluminum. While aluminum companies
>> often cite big savings from recycling, they fail to mention that at current
>> wasting levels, about 23 billion kilowatt-hours are squandered globally each
>> year through 'replacement production.' About 7 kWh are saved per pound (33
>> cans) recycled. Had the billions of cans trashed been recycled, the
>> electricity saved could power 1.3 million American homes."
>> According to the International Aluminum Institute, about a third of the
>> primary aluminum produced worldwide uses coal-generated electricity, 10%
>> relies on oil and natural gas-fired electricity generation, 5% is nuclear
>> powered, and about half uses hydroelectricity (dams). In total, the
>> industry's annual electricity consumption is almost 300 billion
>> kilowatt-hours, or about 3% of the world's total electricity consumption.
>> Much of the electricity used by the industry is available at below-market
>> prices. According to Glenn Switkes, Latin America director of the
>> Berkeley-based International Rivers Network, "Aluminum companies are
>> relocating to the tropics because governments in developing countries are
>> providing them with subsidized hydroelectricity. These dams have irreversible
>> impacts on biodiversity, and displace thousands of riverbank dwellers and
>> indigenous peoples." Aluminum companies are the principal force behind the
>> Brazilian government's plans to dam the major rivers of the Amazon, he said.
>> "Valuable ecosystems on every continent have been destroyed for the
>> convenience of the aluminum industry and consumers," added Peter Bosshard,
>> Policy Director of International Rivers Network. "Hydropower dams linked to
>> aluminum smelters have flooded vast tracts of land, displaced tens of
>> thousands of people, and created unsustainable debt burdens for poor
>> countries." He cited the Karahnjukar Dam in Eastern Iceland and the Akosombo
>> Dam in Ghana as two particularly egregious examples of destructive
>> dam-and-aluminum projects.
>> Another dirty secret, according to CRI, is aluminum's contribution to
>> climate change. About 95 million tons of greenhouse gases were produced by
>> the global aluminum industry in 2005.
>> "While the industry as a whole has made laudable technical improvements to
>> reduce greenhouse emissions for each ton of primary aluminum produced,"
>> Gitlitz said, "it has consistently failed to eliminate the portion of
>> greenhouse gasses that come from replacing 1.5 million tons of trashed cans
>> with new ones made from virgin materials--that is to say--from bauxite and
>> Primary aluminum smelting also generates sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide
>> emissions, which are contributors to smog and acid rain. "Had the cans
>> wasted in 2005 been recycled," Gitlitz said, "they would have avoided the
>> emission of 75,000 tons of SOx and NOx."
>> "The Aluminum Association's press release is about the national average
>> aluminum can recycling rate," Franklin observed. "But the eleven U.S.
>> states with beverage container deposit laws (or "bottle bills") recycle
>> 75-95% of cans all sold. States without deposits only recycle 35% of cans
>> "This means that there is already a realistic policy option to combat
>> container waste," Franklin said, "but it has not been adopted more widely
>> due to industry lobbying, public relations, and lip service."
>> "The beverage industry spends millions each year to combat deposit
>> legislation, while we continue to trash 5 out of every 10 cans sold,"
>> Franklin said. "If container and beverage producers won't accept
>> responsibility for managing their can waste, Americans need to ask their
>> state legislators to do the job."
>> # # #
>> Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Container Recycling Institute is a
>> non-profit (501c3) organization that analyzes beverage container sales,
>> recycling, and wasting trends, and advocates policy measures to increase
>> recycling and reduce the environmental damages from container production and
>> Headquartered in Berkeley, CA, the International Rivers Network protects
>> rivers and defends the rights of communities that depend on them. IRN
>> opposes destructive dams and the development model they advance, and
>> encourages better ways of meeting people's needs for water, energy and
>> protection from destructive floods.
>> For more information, see the CRI report, "Trashed Cans: the Global
>> Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can Wasting in America," a free download:
>> and the IRN report, "Foiling the Aluminum Industry: A Toolkit for
>> Communities, Activists, Consumers, and Workers," available at:
>> For more data and graphics on Aluminum's Dirty Little Secret, please visit
>> our website:
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