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[GreenYes] The Aluminum Can's Dirty Little Secret: CRI-IRN news release


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 Can¹s Dirty Little Secret:
On-going Environmental Harm Outpaces the Metal¹s ³Green² Benefits

WASHINGTON, DC (May 17, 2006)? Industry ³greenwashing² 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. ³The Association reported an increase of less than one percentage
point in the national aluminum can recycling rate?from 51.2 to 52.0
percent,² she said, ³but they failed to mention that we still are trashing
800,000 tons of aluminum beverage cans a year.² Franklin said this was
equivalent to the annual output of 3-4 major primary aluminum smelters.

³Frankly, I was surprised to see how slight the increase was, given the
record-breaking prices for scrap aluminum cans in 2005,² 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 ³the most recyclable²
package in America, said Jennifer Gitlitz, CRI research director. ³But
recyclable doesn¹t necessarily mean recycled. More than half of the 99
billion cans sold in the U.S. last year were landfilled or incinerated.²
Gitlitz said a similar amount wasn¹t recycled in other countries, for a
global total of about 1.5 million tons of wasted cans.

³These trashed cans must be replaced with new cans made entirely from virgin
materials,² Gitlitz said, ³and that is where the environmental damage

She cited bauxite mining and processing as a major source of water
pollution. ³Each ton of aluminum cans requires 5 tons of bauxite ore to be
strip-mined, crushed, washed, and refined into alumina before it is
smelted,² she explained. ³The process creates about 5 tons of caustic red
mud residue which can seep into surface and groundwater,² said Gitlitz.
People and animals have suffered from the effects of bauxite mining in
Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and other tropical areas, she noted.

³We¹re talking about immense energy consumption,² said Gitlitz. ³3% 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.¹ 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.²

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
industry¹s annual electricity consumption is almost 300 billion
kilowatt-hours, or about 3% of the world¹s 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, ³Aluminum 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.² Aluminum companies are the principal force
behind the Brazilian government¹s plans to dam the major rivers of the
Amazon, he said.

³Valuable ecosystems on every continent have been destroyed for the
convenience of the aluminum industry and consumers,² added Peter Bosshard,
Policy Director of International Rivers Network. ³Hydropower 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.² 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 aluminum¹s contribution to
climate change. About 95 million tons of greenhouse gases were produced by
the global aluminum industry in 2005.

³While the industry as a whole has made laudable technical improvements to
reduce greenhouse emissions for each ton of primary aluminum produced,²
Gitlitz said, ³it 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. ³Had the cans
wasted in 2005 been recycled,² Gitlitz said, ³they would have avoided the
emission of 75,000 tons of SOx and NOx.²

³The Aluminum Association¹s press release is about the national average
aluminum can recycling rate,² Franklin observed. ³But the eleven U.S.
states with beverage container deposit laws (or ³bottle bills²) recycle
75-95% of cans all sold. States without deposits only recycle 35% of cans

³This means that there is already a realistic policy option to combat
container waste,² Franklin said, ³but it has not been adopted more widely
due to industry lobbying, public relations, and lip service.²

³The beverage industry spends millions each year to combat deposit
legislation, while we continue to trash 5 out of every 10 cans sold,²
Franklin said. ³If container and beverage producers won¹t accept
responsibility for managing their can waste, Americans need to ask their
state legislators to do the job.²

# # #

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, ³Trashed Cans: the Global
Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can Wasting in America,² a free download:
and the IRN report, ³Foiling the Aluminum Industry: A Toolkit for
Communities, Activists, Consumers, and Workers,² available at:

For more data and graphics on Aluminum¹s Dirty Little Secret, please visit
our website:

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