Dear Recyclebank: Should aluminum cans be crushed before I recycle them? –E. Mijares
Dear E.: Whether aluminum cans should be crushed depends on how you’re recycling them, according to the Aluminum Association.
For multiple-stream recycling, where everything is separated, yes, crushed cans can help save space, making transporting recyclables more efficient.
For single-stream recycling, where recyclables are mixed and are separated at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), cans should not be crushed. This is because it’s easier for the equipment to sort out intact cans.
“But in general, we just want to make sure cans get recycled,” says Matt Meenan, senior director of public affairs at the Aluminum Association. “We’re proud of the fact that aluminum cans are the most recyclable, and the most recycled, beverage container on the market.”
Meenan shared some interesting facts about aluminum recycling:
1. Making a can from recycled material requires only 8 percent of the energy that it takes to make a can out of brand-new aluminum.
2. Other beverage containers, such as plastic, are typically down-cycled into a new product — i.e. most plastic bottles are turned into textile fiber rather than more bottles.
3. Aluminum cans, meanwhile, are most often recycled right back into more cans in a closed loop.
If you’re shopping for beverages, aluminum cans have a strong advantage over glass or plastic: While glass is also easy to recycle in theory, it is not always accepted by curbside services because broken glass can contaminate the rest of the recyclables. It’s also heavier than aluminum, making it less efficient to transport. And plastic, since it’s made from petroleum, is a less eco-responsible choice. Even better than an aluminum six-pack of beer is a glass growler, which gets refilled again and again.
Bottom line: Whether or not you crush your cans before throwing them in your curbside recycling container, what’s important is that you recycle your aluminum cans. “While cans are recycled at high rates, more than 40 billion cans still end up in landfills in the U.S. each year — that’s $800 million of lost material that could otherwise be recycled back into a new product,” says Meenan.