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Alcoa Raises UBC Recycling Rate to 75% by 2015

Alcoa announced today that it has established a goal to raise the industry’s used beverage can (UBC) recycling rate in North America from its current 52% rate to 75% by 2015.

“The aluminum industry must work together for common sustainability goals that transcend individual commercial objectives, and we must approach this with a sense of urgency. It’s all about recapturing this pool of energy before it is lost to the landfill,” said Greg Wittbecker, Alcoa’s Director Corporate Metal Recycling Strategy, in a call-for-action presentation to aluminum industry leaders during the Platt’s Aluminum Symposium. Recycled aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to produce and can be recycled a multitude of times.

In the U.S. aluminum beverage can market of over 1.5 million metric tons per year, about 800,000 tons of UBCs are currently being recycled. Wittbecker said that the U.S. recycling rate has fallen steadily from its high of 68% in 1992. In comparison, Brazil and Japan report phenomenal recycling rates of nearly 95% and 92%, respectively, and the global average is 60%.

Wittbecker cited several reasons why recycling has fallen in North America, including inconvenient collection systems, technology stagnation in coated scrap processing and commercial objectives that have not been aligned with recycling.

Aluminum Recycling Is Part of Clean Air Solution

If 75% of UBCs not currently recycled in North America are brought back into the system that equates to about 600,000 metric tons of aluminum, Wittbecker explained. That 600,000 mt is equal to a savings of 1,286 megawatts of electricity, or the equivalent of two average sized coal fired power plants running at maximum efficiency 24/7. “Aluminum recycling is part of the clean air solution. By recycling 75% of UBCs not captured today, we achieve an environmental savings of reducing 11.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year,” he said.

Alcoa last month began a $22 million investment to expand recycling capacity at its Tennessee Operations by nearly 50 percent. The investment furthers Alcoa’s position as a leader in aluminum scrap processing technology. The expansion will utilize state-of-the-art environmental and fuel efficiency technologies as well as support future flexibility to process other aluminum scrap types.

Wittbecker outlined a number of possible approaches to help increase the recycling rate, including behavior changes, making recycling and collection more convenient, technical improvements for processing coated materials and enhanced commercial alliances across all in the industry.

Wittbecker reiterated Alcoa’s willingness to stand ready to work with a broad coalition of partners including the U.S. Aluminum Association Recycling Committee, Aluminum Can Council, Curbside Value Partnership, and Institute of Recycling Industries, among others on a focused approach to raising recycling rates.

Benefits of Recycling Aluminum

Recycled aluminum is identical to smelted aluminum, except that it takes only 1/20 of the energy to make it. Less energy means reduced greenhouse emissions. And aluminum can be recycled over and over again, unlike many other materials. When an aluminum beverage can is recycled, it does something few other containers can do: it reappears back on the shelf, probably in 60 days or less, as a brand new soda can. That's because the can's aluminum materials are specially engineered for 100% recycling, with no waste and a minimum of energy input. The world uses billions and billions of cans every year. That's why can recycling is such an important part of the greenhouse picture.

“Aluminum has a great story to tell, and we must take advantage of it,” Wittbecker concluded.

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