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Recycling – Facts and Figures


Empty soda and food cans are a natural resource. Recycling steel and tin cans saves 74% of the energy used to produce them. Aluminum cans are 100% recyclable. Americans currently discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum each year. Of that, only about 50 percent is recycled. Apart from the economic impact, the environmental benefits of recycling metal are enormous. Producing aluminum and steel from mining is damaging to the environment. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours.


Most people call them “tin cans,” but the containers your canned foods come in are mostly made of steel, with a micro-thin coating of tin inside, to protect the flavor and prevent the can from corroding. Americans use about 100 million steel cans every day. That’s 36.5 billion cans a year. About 71% of steel cans are recycled, making them one of the most recycled packaging products in America. Recycling steel saves at least 75% of the energy it would take to create steel from raw materials. That’s enough energy to power 18 million homes.


Paper products make up about 71 million tons (or 29%) of the municipal waste stream. Fortunately, upwards of 63% (45 million tons) is recycled annually. Approximately 334 pounds of paper is recycled for every person in the United States. Recycling just one ton of paper saves trees and enough energy to power the average American home for 6 months.


Unfortunately, many Americans do not recycle properly, largely because little guidance is provided. Improper recycling leads to challenges for the recyclers, and many materials have to be rejected as waste instead of being recycled. For example, if a large bundle of material has an item that is inappropriate, the entire bundle is sent to a landfill. In addition, materials such as grocery bags and other flexible plastics will get caught in the recycling machinery. Though using reusable bags is best, many grocery stores have containers to accept and recycle plastic bags.

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