for Submission to the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Hearing on Recycling
Vice President, Government Affairs
Alcan Aluminum Corporation
July 11, 2002
Alcan Aluminum Corporation commends Chairman Jeffords for holding this hearing on recycling, in general, and specifically on beverage container recycling and appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony for the record.
As background, Alcan Aluminum Corporation is a U.S. subsidiary of Alcan, Inc., a multinational leader in aluminum and specialty packaging, with facilities located in 38 countries. In the United States, Alcan employees over 8,500 men and women at our packaging and aluminum primary, fabrication and recycling operations. Alcan owns and operates the world’s largest, dedicated, used-beverage can recycling facility in Berea, Kentucky. We also have two other recycling facilities, which are located in Oswego, New York and Greensboro, Georgia. Currently, Alcan recycles nearly 40 percent of all the aluminum cans recycled in the United States. We are committed to increasing the number of aluminum cans that are recycled – not only is it the right thing to do environmentally, but it makes good business sense also.
The economics of recycling aluminum. Inevitably, a discussion about recycling always focuses on whether recycling programs are cost-effective, particularly since the recycling of most commodities does not pay for itself and, therefore, does not make good sense economically. The same statements cannot be said about aluminum, however. Recycling aluminum is a solid value. It is the only beverage container material covering its cost of collection and processing, and it actually provides significant revenue to the recycling stream. As a practical matter, this means that aluminum helps defray the cost of curbside collection programs throughout the country. The average cost of curbside collection is around $240 per ton. However, the scrap value of aluminum is more than $1,070 per ton, making the net profit for recycling aluminum cans $830 per ton. No other recyclable beverage container in the waste stream has this economic benefit. Aluminum should not be considered a “solid waste.” Instead, it should be recognized as a “solid value.”
The environmental benefits of recycling aluminum. In addition to the economic value of recycling aluminum, there are numerous environmental benefits, as well. These include: the conservation of natural resources; reduction in litter; and reduction in the need for landfill space. Aluminum is the most unique, because unlike other commodities, it is possible to recycle aluminum an infinite number of times without losing or sacrificing quality. Recycling of aluminum beverage containers typically yields recoveries of 98 percent of the metal content.
Large amounts of energy are invested in the production of virgin aluminum. While the industry is constantly improving the energy efficiency of its processes, an increase in recycling provides a significant opportunity for reducing the demand for energy. Recycling aluminum saves nearly 95 percent of the energy and raw materials that are required to produce aluminum from ore. As a result, related emissions, which include so-called greenhouse gases, also are reduced significantly. At a time when there is such uncertainty about the future reliability of our energy sources, Congress should recognize that recycling aluminum affords the country a significant means of reducing our demand on energy, and it should fashion public policies to reflect this.
We at Alcan are proud that aluminum has over a 50 percent recycling rate and each aluminum can is made from post-consumer recycled content of approximately 50 percent -- no other beverage container comes close to achieving this success. However, we are concerned that the rate of recycling has decreased since its all time high of 65 percent in 1992. While we are currently exploring reasons for this trend, we believe the primary factor for the declining recycling rates is the lack of interest and attention that recycling receives from policy holders, the public at-large, and the media.
Alcan constantly is searching for innovative ways to increase recycling rates. One such innovation is the partnership with Habitat for Humanity through the Aluminum Association. This program, called Aluminum Cans Build Habitat for Humanity Homes, raises money to build homes through aluminum can recycling. The money that is earned by recycling aluminum cans is donated by people across the country to Habitat for Humanity in order to help fund the building of homes for families in need. The backbone of this program is the nearly 2,000 recycling centers and the 300 Habitat affiliates across the United States that participate in the program. Since aluminum is the one commodity in the waste stream that has significant value, our partnership with Habitat demonstrates quite clearly that aluminum’s value extends beyond mere dollars and cents to the communities that benefit from its value. In addition to Alcan’s partnership with Habitat, the aluminum industry paid nearly $1 billion to recyclers, and schools, charities and local fund-raising groups for used beverage cans.
Throughout the next few months, we are hopeful that Congress, and particularly this Committee, will consider new ways to increase aluminum can recycling. To this end, Alcan respectfully submits the following suggestions for your consideration.
(1) Consumer Education -- We believe that one of the most worthwhile efforts that Congress can do to encourage recycling is to hold hearings like this one, which focus attention on the importance of recycling. Consumers are the most important link in the recycling chain; however, they need to be informed periodically of the benefits and encouraged to recycle.
(2) Tax credits -- Congress should provide a tax credit to encourage increased placement of recycling collection facilities in public locations. While there is more curbside collection than ever across the nation, with a more mobile society and numerous locations that do not have access to curbside collection, the placing of more recycling collection centers in public places could help capture those beverage containers consumed away from home. One example of such a collection facility might include "reverse vending machines" placed in grocery store and convenient store parking lots.
(3) "Recognition for recycled content" -- EPA should designate aluminum cans as having meaningful recycled content (aluminum cans have approximately 50% recycled content, whereas other beverage containers have hardly any). Such a recognition by EPA would enable products in aluminum cans to be listed on the Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (“CPG”), and allow the General Services Administration to require that federal agencies purchase beverages in aluminum cans.
(4) Recognition for greenhouse gas reductions -- For every ton of aluminum cans that are recycled, nearly 4 tons of greenhouse gas emissions (MCTE) are avoided, as compared to producing virgin aluminum. Credits for such greenhouse gas reductions as a result of increased recycling should be awarded to recyclers. These credits should be eligible for banking or trading.
In summary, we at Alcan thank you for your efforts to raise the interest in beverage container recycling. Recycling aluminum is a success – both economically and environmentally, but we can do more. We want to capture those cans that are going into landfills, and if this occurs, we all will benefit. By recycling more aluminum cans, aluminum manufacturers would have an “above ground mine” from which to source aluminum, and energy demand and emissions (as compared to manufacturing primary aluminum) would be reduced by 95 percent. Finally, if just half of the cans that were thrown away in 2001 had been recycled instead, the proceeds collected from recycling those aluminum cans could have built over 5,000 new homes for families in need.
We look forward to working with you and members of the Committee to find and implement new ways to build on the success of aluminum cans recycling.