Building New Lives From Used Cans

For every 5 million recycled aluminum cans of the approximate 100 billion that are produced each year, a house can be built. In fact, the Aluminum Cans Build Habitat for Humanity Homes (ACBHHH) program, an initiative between the Washington, D.C.-based Aluminum Association and Americus, Ga.-based Habitat for Humanity International, uses donated aluminum cans to help fund housing projects throughout the country.

Since the program began in October 1997, ACBHHH has formed a nationwide network with Habitat for Humanity affiliates and recycling centers to collect more than 1 million pounds of aluminum cans and build 13 houses, according to Steve Thompson, program director.

The average Habitat home costs anywhere from $46,000 to $50,000, Thompson says. Applicants that qualify for Habitat homes purchase the houses interest-free and must work at least 500 hours building their house or on someone else's, according to Al Crumpton, Habitat's senior account manager of corporate programs.

Each of the approximately 1,600 U.S. Habitat affiliates makes a decision whether to join the ACBHHH program. At press time, 448 had joined.

Meanwhile, the Aluminum Association collects and sells aluminum cans collected from the affiliates, as well as from approximately 2,000 recycling centers, then uses the money to help fund the ACBHHH program.

Funds also are used to provide each affiliate with free materials such as recycling bins, cardboard containers with the program logo, plastic bags, posters and a cookbook with tips on making the can collection program successful. The association has donated an average of $2 million annually to the program.

Additionally, the association provides affiliates with grants, based on their program performance. To date, nearly $1 million in grants has been awarded to local affiliates.

The ACBHHH program “is designed to make it easy for the public to donate the value of their used aluminum beverage cans to the community,” Thompson says. “People are happy to donate their cans if you make it easy for them.”

Because the program has been in existence for some time, the Aluminum Association now is considering making ACBHHH a matching grant program, where affiliates would receive a percentage of the total funds available based on the amount of money raised or the amount of pounds of aluminum recycled, Thompson says.

To find the nearest affiliate or to join, visit