Recycling cans changes an industry


Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Northwest is asked to give up 18 dams.

Andy Kerr's proposal to dismantle or not build 18 dams rests in part on the fact that Americans in 1992 recycled 67.9 percent of their aluminum cans.

That recycling saved an immense amount of electricity, and helped make the Northwest's aluminum plants more marginal than they would have been without recycling. Peter Merner, an industry analyst in New York City, said, "The effect of more recycling is to reduce the price of aluminum."

Merner said it is difficult to quantify how much recycling depressed aluminum's price, but it is easy to quantify how much electricity is saved. According to the Aluminum Association, based in Washington, D.C., it takes 20 times more electricity to make an aluminum product from scratch than it does to make it from recycled material.

There is more to the aluminum industry than beer and pop cans. Food containers consume only 28 percent of all U.S. aluminum. Transportation (autos and aircraft) use 19.5 percent of aluminum and construction consumes 14.3 percent. Much of the aluminum in automobiles is also recycled.

Merner predicted that the Northwest's aluminum smelters would be priced out of the region's electricity market within a decade or two. But he also predicted that the electricity freed by their demise would be consumed by residential and commerical growth in the region.

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