An Increase at Last

EFFORTS TO INCREASE THE aluminum recycling rate are paying off, but some groups say more needs to be done. After spending nearly a decade in steady decline, the aluminum can recycling rate improved slightly in 2004. According to the Washington-based Aluminum Association, the recycling rate for aluminum cans in 2004 was 51.2 percent, up 1.2 percentage points from 2003. The increase marked the first uptick in the rate since 1997, when the association noted 66.5 percent of cans were recycled.

Robin King, vice president of public affairs for the Aluminum Association, applauds the news. “We're delighted in the increased rate and have been trying various efforts to increase recycling,” he says.

The association credits a recognition of the economic and environmental benefits of recycling aluminum cans for the rate's increase. Aluminum industry officials concede, however, that there is much work to be done to return the recycling rate to the relatively high levels of the early- and mid-1990s.

To that end, the association says it will continue its work with the Aluminum Can Council, a joint committee that it formed three years ago with the Washington-based Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) to promote can recycling and to help communities publicize curbside recycling programs. CMI and the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries help the Aluminum Association compile the recycling rate.

Meanwhile, the Arlington, Va.-based Container Recycling Institute (CRI) also has released its recycling rate. While it, too, shows a can recycling increase for the first time since 1997, its figures are lower than the Aluminum Association's.

According to CRI, the 2004 rate rose 0.8 percentage points from 2003, to a 45.1 percent recycling rate. The institute says its rate is lower because it does not include imported scrap cans in its calculations.

The rise in the rate is nothing to get excited about, says Jenny Gitlitz, research director for CRI. “The recycling rate was really up less than a full percentage point,” she says. “On a per capita basis, only three more cans were recycled per person in 2003 versus 2004, which means only one extra can per person every four months [was recycled].

CRI argues that bottle bills, which charge consumers a deposit on each beverage container purchased that can be recovered if the containers are recycled, are the best way to increase recycling. The Aluminum Association believes that aggressive marketing of voluntary recycling programs that emphasize the value of recyclable materials is the way to go.