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Do you recycle your cans? Recent statistics show that many Americans do take recycling seriously. The Steel Recycling Institute reports that the recycling rate for steel cans in the United States grew to 63 percent in 2005. A total of 1.4 million tons of steel cans was recycled back into various steel products last year.

In each of the past five years, the Steel Recycling Institute has achieved its goal of making steel cans the country’s most recycled packaging material. This may seem surprising since we more often hear about the recycling of aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Most steel cans are used in food packaging, whereas aluminum cans and plastic are typically used for beverages.

In 2005, recycling rates were only 22 percent for plastic beverage bottles and 52 percent for aluminum cans, versus 63 percent for steel cans.

The overall recycling rate for steel in 2005 increased by five-percentage-points to 76 percent. In addition to cans, this includes salvaged vehicles, appliances, industrial scrap, and steel recovered from buildings, bridges, etc. The higher recycling rate for 2005 could well be explained by the increased value of steel scrap as reflected in the higher prices paid by scrap buyers.

Meanwhile, the recycling of aluminum cans draws much more attention. The worldwide market for aluminum beverage cans in 2005 was 220 billion, of which 114 billion cans were sold in the U.S—more than half of global consumption. Americans averaged 400 aluminum cans per capita last year, versus 13 cans per capita in Europe. On average, each American uses more than one aluminum can each day.

Unfortunately, the trend of aluminum can recycling in the U.S. has declined in recent years from an earlier rate as high as 60 percent to around 50 percent currently.

Interestingly, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) points out that aluminum is the only packaging material with enough scrap value to cover the cost of its collection and processing. Because of the high cost of energy required to produce new aluminum, there is a strong economic incentive to recycle aluminum.

Nevertheless, increased recycling of steel cans also represents a big opportunity. Steel Dynamics clearly derives higher value when scrap steel goes into our furnaces rather than going into landfills.

The Waynedale News Staff
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Fred Warner

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