Alcoa urges greater recycling rates

Alcoa plans to raise the North American aluminium industry’s used beverage can (UBC) recycling rate from 52 per cent to 75 per cent by 2015.

‘The aluminium 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 aluminium industry leaders.

According to Alcoa, recycled aluminium requires 95 percent less energy to produce and can be recycled a multitude of times. In the US aluminium 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 US recycling rate has fallen steadily from its high of 68 per cent in 1992. In comparison, Brazil and Japan report recycling rates of nearly 95 per cent and 92 per cent, respectively, and the global average is 60 per cent.

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.

If 75 per cent of UBCs not currently recycled in North America are brought back into the system that equates to about 600,000 metric tons of aluminium, Wittbecker said. That 600,000mt 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.

‘Aluminium recycling is part of the clean air solution. By recycling 75 per cent 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.