You CAN Even!
Summer is here and there has never been a better time to enjoy craft beer in it's highest form: straight from the aluminum can. Aluminum cans have improved remarkably in the past decade and they're extremely durable, easy to transport, allow your beer cool faster and stay fresher longer AND you can make neat figurines out of them when being questioned by investigators. But with all the benefits of drinking craft beer in an 8oz, 10oz, 12oz, 24oz or 32oz "mini keg", there's bound to a dark side. And unfortunately for aluminum cans, there is one very disturbing problem...
Aluminum, (as everyone knows) comes from mining and processing bauxite ore. Bauxite is sourced from open-pit mines which destroy huge amounts of surface area and cause environmental devastation to the surrounding areas. But that's not the most disturbing problem with aluminum cans.
Bauxite mines are (all) located in Brazil, Guinea, Jamaica, Australia, Africa, etc. meaning that we spend millions and use thousands of gallons of oil and resources to ship the bauxite from these locations to the U.S. for processing. But THAT'S not the the most disturbing problem with aluminum cans either.
The most disturbing problem with aluminum cans is you. Yes, YOU.
After bauxite arrives in the U.S., it is processed in smelting facilities and is then combined with recycled aluminum to be made into new aluminum cans. Currently these facilities are not getting as much recycled aluminum as they should despite the recent rise in popularity for aluminum cans. It seems that in the midst of privatizing space exploration, going from no cell phones to every human with a cell phone and electing a black President, Americans have dropped the ball on recycling what is literally our most recyclable material.
America used to be better at closing the loop with aluminum. In the mid '90's the average recycling rate nationwide was at a growing 62%. And in the 10 states where 'bottle bills' exist, they recycle 75-95% of cans sold. Unfortunately the other 40 states that do not have deposit laws recycle as little as 35% of their aluminum cans sold. We're talking Texas, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, all bringing down our national average to about 51%.
You probably had one of three reactions to seeing that figure. Either, "Hm, 51% is much higher than I imagined," like when you learned 51% of Americans don't believe in the Big Bang Theory. Or "Wow, 51% is less than I imagined," like when you saw only 51% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 voted in 2008. Or, "Hm, 51% is good, but it should be 100%," like you thought when you realized that 51% of Americans now live in states where same sex marriage is legal.
Aluminum is and has always been a state-of-the-art recyclable. Think of it this way, aluminum would be the iPhone of recyclable materials if the iPhone was also durable, dependable and kept all your information safe. Aluminum is 100% recyclable and it is also ENDLESSLY recyclable making it THE MOST recyclable resource. Our inability to put an aluminum can in a separate container from the trash extremely disturbing. Not only is the recycling container often located immediately to the left or the right of the trash, but it takes 95% less energy to make aluminum cans from recycled material as compared to raw bauxite.
Even if we were to just bring the average rate back up to 62% we would be making large steps towards alleviating aluminum's other terrible problems. Far less energy would be used to process aluminum as we would need far less bauxite which in turn means less oil, money and resources used to transport bauxite because far less bauxite would be mined, which in turns means the incredible strain on the surrounding areas where bauxite ore is located would be greatly lifted.
As craft beer drinkers demand that more of our magnificent brew to be put in cans, we must also demand and push for the recycling and reusing these cans. The process by which we obtain our cans must be held to the same high standard at that we hold the process by which we obtain our beloved beverage. If not, we will continue to be responsible for the exploiting other countries, drastically harming the environment, and annoying blog posts from alcoholic self proclaimed humanitarians.
So recycle that aluminum craft beer enthusiets. You CAN even!