NR 2001-51
July 30, 2001

Contact: Carol Dahmen
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
Ed Wilson
(916) 323-1886

Recycling. It’s Good for the Bottle. It’s Good for the Can.

By Darryl W. Young, Director
California Department of Conservation

Guest Commentary

With Californians facing a daily challenge to conserve energy, it may be easy to overlook other important resource conservation practices such as recycling. Easy, that is, until you realize that last year we threw away 6.3 billion aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers – enough to circle the Earth nearly seven times.

If that doesn’t catch your attention, consider this: those trashed containers were worth approximately $160 million at the local recycling center.

Since the earliest Earth Day movements of three decades ago, California has been a national leader in recycling. Throughout the 1990s, we recycled an average of 77 percent of the bottles and cans purchased in California. Still, many of us fail to recognize the significance of tossing a plastic bottle or an aluminum can into a garbage can rather than a recycling bin. In 2000, nearly 40 percent of the 16.5 billion beverage containers purchased in California were trashed.

Tossing so many containers in the waste bin is more than a waste of money; it’s a tremendous waste of energy and valuable raw materials as well. Once a bottle or can is land filled, it cannot be used again.

It takes more heat to create an aluminum can from aluminum ore than it does to melt down an existing can for reuse. In fact, the energy difference between processing raw aluminum ore and processing a recycled aluminum can – about 95 percent – provides enough saved energy to run a television for 2.5 hours.

A our recycling habits have fallen by the wayside, the market for raw materials made from recycled plastic, glass and aluminum has grown steadily. In some cases, this caused a shortage of recycled materials for manufacturers.

Most often an aluminum can will end up back on the grocery store shelf within 90 days as a new aluminum can. But it also can be used in softball bats, aluminum shingles for new homes or outdoor park benches and playground equipment.

Glass bottles in California already average about 28 percent recycled content, but recycled glass also is used to make fiberglass insulation, glass tiles and countertops in home construction, and a growing list of other products.

Plastic, which is recycled the least, can be used to make a variety of new products, from clothing to construction materials. Recycled plastic is found in decking materials, picnic benches, signposts, garden hoses and even kayaks.

Finally, local cities and counties with curbside recycling programs generate income from the California Redemption Value (CRV) of each bottle and can they collect, approximately $64.4 million in 2000. In most cases, the income is used to offset the cost of recycling programs and waste collection services, thereby keeping customer bills lower. Tossing beverage containers into the trash deprives those local communities of revenue that can offset customer costs.

Many local charitable organizations, school activities and other social programs recycle bottles and cans for their CRV and scrap value. Imagine what $160 million, the approximate amount of unredeemed CRV in 2000, would have done to support our local communities throughout California.

Recycling bottles and cans carries significant ramifications – economically, environmentally and socially. And recycling is relatively easy.

Beverage container redemption centers are located in many grocery store parking lots. A center is located within a mile of most stores selling CRV bottles and cans. More than 500 cities and counties throughout California have some kind of curbside collection program. Many parks, beaches and other public venues also have recycling bins.

So as you are out and about this summer, remember to recycle. It’s good for the bottle. It’s good for the can.

It’s good for California.