Last year, Alcoa says that Americans did not recycle 1.3 billion pounds of aluminum, which is equivalent to the aluminum that would be used in more than 27,000 Airbus A320s. With a value somewhere between $0.70/lb and $1.00/lb, aluminum cans represent one of the most valuable packaging materials in use, and the most widely recovered nonferrous metal. So why did we throw away 1.3 billion pounds of aluminum last year? asks Anne Johnson of GreenBlue.
Johnson questions the law of supply and demand, given that something as valuable as aluminum would not be recycled more willingly be consumers. While it may be valuable in aggregate, however, the value of a can is much lower - only two or three cents. Unfortunately, consumers make decisions based on the value of the cans in their possession, not on the total value of that 1.3 billion pound recovery shortfall. The reason that aluminum cans go unrecycled is something along the lines of why people do not pick up pennies off of the sidewalk. They don't see it to be worth the trouble.
Johnson then goes on to suggest other campaigns that have the potential to boost recycling, such as BlueGreen's How2Recycle campaign. I think it is a very useful idea and will definitely help eliminate consumer confusion about what can be recycled, and thereby promote recycling. Unfortunately, it does not apply in the least to aluminum cans. Everybody already knows that aluminum should be recycled and that it is highly desirable. The only confusion is around the best way to change people's behaviors so that they quit buying them, or do a better job of recycling them, whether that is through more attractive container deposit systems or more compelling motivation schemes than we currently see being used to induce the recycling of empty beverage cans. How about being offered a ticket for every returned can on a lottery to win one of 27,000 brand new Airbus A320s?