When I first started researching recycling, I was so encouraged by what I was learning about aluminum and metal cans. Infinitely recyclable! Those were the words I was reading. YAY! At last, something we could feel good about recycling!
The truth is not quite so simple. While Aluminum and Steel can be recycled over and over without losing their integrity, there are some caveats.
Aluminum cans are generally recycled into cans. According to some of the research I did, the aviation and automotive industries prefer to use “new” aluminum in their manufacturing process. I don’t know that this is a problem, just an interesting thing to consider. Aluminum foil can be recycled too…the only issue is cleaning it first. I have seen it recommended to ball the aluminum up into at least 2 inch round balls for ease of handling at the recycling facility. I just found out that you can buy aluminum foil that is 100% recycled – there’s a win!
Metal cans are also a little problematic. I used to call these cans tin cans. In reality most food cans are made of steel and have a tin lining. The good news is that, like aluminum, these metals can be recycled indefinitely. YAY! All we have to do is wash them, put the lid inside the can and crimp it closed, and BAM! – recyclable!!! We don’t even have to take off the label.
But here’s a little problem. Some cans, instead of being lined with tin, are lined with a substance called BPA (Bisphenol A). This is especially true for soup cans. So why do we care about this? There are two reasons: (1) BPA can contaminate the recycle stream, and (2) BPA is felt to have adverse health effects. I’ll write more about this in another blog.
Aluminum is lightweight, making it less expensive to transport than other recyclables. But the cans still have to go somewhere to be processed and re-made into cans. From what I could see, most aluminum can re-processing facilities are clustered in Southeastern USA. I have e-mailed/called two municipal recycling centers and the private company that handles my trash to find out where the aluminum they collect goes – radio silence. I asked the same question about steel cans – silence. I sincerely hope the aluminum we use is being actively turned back into usable metal here in our own country, and not outsourced to Africa or Southeast Asia.
At then end of the day, aluminum beverage containers can be recycled, are recycled and should be recycled aggressively. But, as I always say, better yet is to really consider if that beverage or food you are eating/drinking is worth the environmental cost of the packaging.
So the take home is this: