Recycling has become the norm in many communities, and it has a dramatic energy efficient impact, as well.
For example, the aluminum can was once the hallmark of the American beverage industry. Coca-cola, Pepsi, and other soft drinks were found in cans, which help keep drinks cool. Though sodas and other beverages are now more frequently found in plastic bottles, Americans still go through quite a large number of aluminum cans every year.
According to the Container Recycling Institute’s study, “Trashed Cans: The Global Environmental Impacts of Aluminum Can Wasting,” Americans wasted 7.1 million tons of aluminum cans between 1990 and 2000. According to the study, this is enough aluminum to reproduce the entire world’s air fleet 25 times.
The Container Recycling Institute estimates that Americans wasted about 50.7 billion aluminum cans in 2001 alone. According to the Institute’s website, recycling an aluminum can take about five percent of the amount of energy required to make a new can. That means those 50.7 billion cans would equal to an energy waste of about 16 million barrels of oil-equivalent. The energy saved through recycling would have powered 2.7 million U.S. homes for a year, or fueled over one million cars for a year.
There is a real market value cost as well. The Institute estimates that those 50.7 billion aluminum cans were worth approximately $800 million in U.S. dollars.
Aluminum cans in Brazil are pressed and strapped into bundles. Everyday, 180,000 Brazilians collect cans throughout the country.
In October 2010, Henio de Nicola, recycling coordinator for the Brazilian Aluminum Association announced that Brazil had achieved a 96.5 percent aluminum can recycling rate. In 2009, this totaled more than 14 billion tons of aluminum cans, the equivalent to four ships the size of the Titanic.
According to de Nicola, the success of Brazil’s program is due to two areas of action.
But what is also telling is the savings in energy by recycling those cans. According to the Brazilian Aluminum Association, manufacturing virgin aluminum requires 80 percent more electricity than recycling it, and then there are the energy costs associated with mining bauxite, the mineral that contains aluminum.
As an added bonus, and a part of Brazil’s success, the recycling of aluminum cans has become an industry unto itself.
The Brazilian Aluminum Association estimates that about 180,000 people participate in the collection of aluminum for recycling, and use it as a source for income. These people, called “strikers,” rise every day and scour the country in search of cans. About 15 kilograms of aluminum cans can sell for about 30 Brazilian reales, which equals roughly 17 U.S. dollars. For some Brazilian families, this is real money in their pockets.
This is in addition to the owners and operators of warehouses, transportation services, and recycling centers, such as in Pindamonhangaba, in the state of Sao Paolo. That facility smelts 250 tons of aluminum daily.
According to the Brazilian Aluminum Association, in 2006, aluminum can recycling reached a level of 91.7 percent in Japan and 52 percent in the United States and the European Union. The benefits go beyond energy savings -recycling produces 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than producing new aluminum.
According to a survey conducted by Novellis Recycling, the top three reasons American’s do not recycle more cans are:
Through the simple act of recycling, the industrialized world can save tremendous amounts of energy. A look to Brazil, which believes a 100 percent recycling rate is now achievable, may offer a glimpse into an approach that can work in the United States and the European Union.
Following in the footsteps of aluminum cans, organizations in Brazil have now begun extensive programs to recycle paper, steel cans, rubber tires, plastic, and even refrigerators. It will be interesting to see what the energy efficient impact of those efforts will be.Log in to post comments