UBC Recycling Rate Continues to Climb

Recycling rate for aluminum cans reaches 67 percent in 2012.

October 29, 2013
Recycling Today Staff

The recycling rate for used aluminum beverage containers (UBCs) reached 67 percent in the United States in 2012, according to data jointly released by The Aluminum Association, the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI).

The recycling rate for 2012 is the highest one since the early 1990s, and the second highest recycling rate since the survey began, according to the three associations. The industry has set a goal of attaining a recycling rate of 75 percent by 2015.

“It’s great news to see the aluminum can extend its lead as the most recycled beverage container, far exceeding comparable rates for glass and plastic,” says Heidi Brock, president of the Aluminum Association, Arlington, Va. “Cans are unique in that they can be recycled infinitely and be back on the shelf in as little as 60 days. Couple that with a 37 percent weight reduction for the average can since 1972 and you have the most sustainable and smart solution available for beverage packaging.”

“We are thrilled that aluminum beverage cans continue to be the most recycled beverage containers in the United States,” says Robert Budway, president of the CMI, Washington, D.C. “Cans are the most sustainable drinks package because cans can be recycled again and again in an infinite loop. We thank consumers for recognizing this value and helping us keep cans out of the landfill and in permanent use.”

The trade groups say the increase in the industry’s recycling rate in recent years has been driven in part by the addition of UBCs imported into the United States. Because of the closed-loop aspect of aluminum can recyclingand aluminum’s significantly higher inherent value in the recycling stream, used cans easily cross borders and are extremely attractive for recycling.

U.S. recyclers and secondary aluminum smelters often import cans from Mexico, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Poland and other countries, the groups say. In 2012 alone, the industry imported and recycled nearly 13 billion cans, nearly double the amount imported five years earlier.

“The increased recycling rate for aluminum cans is representative of the growth in the scrap recycling industry as a whole,” says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, Washington. “The U.S. scrap recycling industry grew from $54 billion in sales in 2009 to more than $90 billion in in 2012, while also adding more than 15,000 jobs since the beginning of 2010. As the recycling industry continues to expand, we also hope to see a continued increase in the aluminum can recycling rate.”