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Last year, the Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI), Washington, released a report with the Aluminum Association, Arlington, Virginia, showing that the U.S. consumer recycling rate for used aluminum (UBC) beverage cans in 2020 was 45.2%, compared to 39.6% for glass. bottles and 20.3% for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. It also showed that the closed-loop circularity rate for aluminum cans was 92.6% compared to 26.8% for PET bottles and between 30% and 60% for glass bottles.

Last year, CMI said strong demand for aluminum beverage cans necessitated increasing UBC’s recycling rate, which would also improve the resilience of the national aluminum supply chain. CMI plans to increase recycling rates for aluminum cans over the next few decades, from the current level of 45.2% to 70% by 2030, 80% by 2040 and 90% by 2050.

“We set these goals because we saw the need to be clear about where we’re trying to go,” says Scott Breen, vice president of sustainability at CMI. “It’s hard to progress and be focused without a clear idea of ​​where you’re trying to go. So we wanted to make it clear to external stakeholders what this industry is doing to increase this recycling rate. »

Increase recyclability

To help the industry achieve these goals, CMI plans to use four pillars of action. The pillars involve implementing beverage container deposit systems at the state and federal levels, increasing home and out-of-home recycling, improving recycling at materials recovery facilities (MRFs), and increasing consumer education on the environmental and economic impact of recycling aluminum cans. .

For the first pillar, the organization says it plans to target specific states where deposit systems have a chance of being implemented. In addition, CMI estimates that the redemption value in current and new deposit systems should be greater than 5 cents to increase the incentive to recycle these containers.

Breen says some states CMI is focusing on include Illinois, Maryland and Washington because of the current social and political attitude towards recycling and because they have a high rate of UBC going to landfills.

For the second pillar, CMI will continue to support The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia. Recently, this organization released kits designed to reduce contamination at curbside collection programs and at drop-off sites. The Partnership also regularly provides grants to communities to pay for recycling carts and recycling education.

“They do a fantastic job, not only with single-family households, but they’re also looking to improve recycling for multi-family living situations,” Breen says. “From their data, we know that when we start from households that don’t have access, or just access to depot, and they move on to curbside carts and solid education on what can go to the carts, we collect more cans.”

CMI, in partnership with the Aluminum Association, launched the Curbside Value Partnership in 2003. It was transformed into an independent non-profit organization in 2011 and changed its name to The Recycling Partnership in 2015.

To increase out-of-home recycling, CMI says it plans to partner with businesses and organizations, including concert halls, stadiums and universities. CMI says it helps by introducing tactics that engage people to recycle UBCs. Breen does not disclose which organizations CMI works with, although the organization maintains a list of organizations, places and others that have banned the sale of PET plastic bottles on its website here.

Under the third pillar, the CMI plans to continue efforts to catalyze the installation of can capture equipment in MRFs. Last year he launched the Can Capture grants program with Ardagh Metal Packaging, Chicago, and Crown Holdings, Philadelphia, and The Recycling Partnership. Through this program, five grants were awarded to MRFs in the first year: Gel Recycling, Port Orange, Florida; Rivers Recycling in Kilgore, Texas; Curbside Management, Asheville, North Carolina; Texas Independent Recyclers, Houston; and an MRF owned and operated by the City of Milwaukee and Waukesha County in Wisconsin.

The grants helped fund investments in eddy current and optical sorters that will capture an additional 71 million aluminum cans per year, generating more than $1.15 million in revenue for the U.S. recycling system and energy savings that could power more than 28 million American homes for an hour. , says CMI.

Breen says CMI has begun the process of selecting MRFs who qualify for the next round of grants, though it’s unclear when facilities will be selected. The three factors CMI asks the Recycling Partnership to consider when selecting grant recipients are the volume of incoming material, willingness to share collection data, and a maintenance history of its equipment.

This year, CMI plans to expand the program with a new hire-purchase program for equipment that increases UBC capture. With funding from Ardagh and Crown, CMI is offering leases where it will pay the upfront cost of the equipment, and the MRF operator can make payments to CMI using part of the UBC revenue captured with the equipment. Breen says CMI will not charge interest to MRF operators through this leasing program.

Breen says CMI is working with Resource Recycling Systems, Ann Arbor, Michigan, to count the number of missorted cans in certain areas of MRFs and then calculate a return on investment (ROI) that will tell each MRF how much money it can make using additional equipment. CMI will also provide an ROI calculator on its website for any MRF operator to download and use.

“I hope this MRF operator decides, ‘OK, I see the possible return on investment with the capture equipment’ or ‘I don’t have the capital, but I’ll take the equipment you offer for rent and I’ll will pay you back over time with a portion of the revenue generated from the cans,” says Breen.

For the fourth pillar, the CMI says it is developing an action plan to increase consumer understanding of the importance of aluminum can recycling and the ability to collect and sell UBC for cash. The rollout of programs developed under this pillar will be slower, Breen says, though he hopes to have a few lined up before the end of the year.

“It’s a bit of a catch-all pillar. It’s the most squishy in the sense that it’s hard to make a communication effort that has a clear measure on the extra cans being recycled,” says Breen. “Ideally, communication activities will complement efforts in other pillars.”

CMI has recently added online tools to allow others to communicate the importance of recycling aluminum cans. He created an aluminum can sustainability communication toolkit containing statistics with downloadable sources and graphics that anyone can use for social media or email. Additionally, CMI has released an Aluminum Beverage Can Recycling Impact Calculator where one can see the impact of can recycling in a variety of metrics like a US home’s power hours and the number of charged smartphones.

Companies that consume scrap aluminum, like JW Aluminum, an aluminum manufacturing company based in Mount Holly, South Carolina, support the new targets set by the CMI, says Ryan Roush, JW’s chief commercial officer.

“It’s a statement that the industry is committed to championing container drop programs based on current market best practices,” said Roush, who has served on various CMI committees. “We know they work, but we’re trying to find ways to optimize them or invest in infrastructure and better programs.

possible bumps

While CMI is confident it can meet the aggressive recycling targets it has set, obstacles could get in the way of its plans.

Deposit systems are difficult to set up because some MRF operators believe the system could affect them negatively. For example, Ben Harvey, the former president of EL Harvey & Sons Inc. in Westborough, Massachusetts, said recycle today in an article published in October last year that depository systems could withdraw this product as a source of income. (EL Harvey was acquired by Waste Connections in the fall of last year.)

“We’re reaching out to those who may not want to see new deposit systems and see where we can find common ground,” Breen says. “We want to engage and hear their concerns and see how we can all come together to create an effective and efficient system.”

When it comes to recovering UBC in an MRF, some operators do not have effective equipment or do not see the need to invest in it. Breen says some MRF operators don’t realize the additional revenue they could generate by more accurately sorting UBCs.

“People don’t necessarily have the full picture of the environmental benefits of recycled aluminum and some have misconceptions about its recyclability,” Roush says. “We need to make sure that consumers of beverages or anything else [packaged in] aluminum understand how to recycle properly. He says if more UBCs are recycled, the effect on supply chains and reduced energy use would be “enormous”.

Additionally, new curbside recycling programs can be costly to implement due to the number of bins and training required to properly recycle UBC and other materials.

sooner rather than later

The CMI says it plans to publish a roadmap detailing the pillars by the end of June. However, he says he should have set those recycling targets earlier.

Breen says if UBC’s recycling rate had been 70% in 2020 instead of 45%, an additional 25.6 billion cans would have been recycled. It would have generated more than $400 million in revenue. It would also have saved enough energy to power over a million homes for a year.

“We are not satisfied; we want to take that recycling rate to new heights,” says Breen. “It’s important to maintain our position as a sustainable circular package. It’s also how we’ll make more waste available so we can build on our industry-leading average recycled content of 73%, which is essential to reduce the carbon footprint of the aluminum beverage can.

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