Friday, 25 July 2008

A Can is A Can, Whichever Way

Photo: MrTickle

My recycling bin gets emptied today.

My two daughters and Lise's boyfriend have, between them, managed to get through so many cans of drink (Carlsberg, Red Bull, Pepsi... you name it, they've probably had it) in just one week that my normally half full recycling bin has been full since Tuesday. I was gobsmacked by the fact that three people alone could produce that much aluminium waste so decided to have a nosey around the 'Net to see what would actually happen to all those cans.

A lot of us use aluminium cans – and by that I mean those used for beer and fizzy drinks, not the tin cans that soup, dog food and that sort of thing come in – at some point. Some of us only use them very occasionally, others use them on a daily basis. And guess what? I’m not gonna preach and say “stop using them”. Ok, so it would be best if we never used them but as they’re one of the waste products we produce that are easiest to recycle, there’s no reason to feel mega guilty about them or render people working in the industry jobless.

Apparently, once cans are sorted from our recycling bins, they’re pressed into huge bales and sent off for melting. Their decoration is then stripped off through a burning process before they’re moved into high temperature furnaces where they’re melted along with previously unused aluminium. The molten metal is then cooled and rolled into thin sheets ready to become new cans. And best of all, the whole process from the cans being picked up at the kerbside to being ready to refill takes just 60 days. That’s efficient recycling.

The downside of using drinks cans is this – if you don’t recycle them but throw them in the general household waste bin or, worse, chuck them along roadside verges, in woodland, fields and similar, they’ll still be there in 300 years time! Can you imagine somebody who’s one of your descendants by 18 generations cutting himself on a rusty can that you once threw away? That’s like you being hurt by something that somebody threw away in 1708! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Certainly there are still original cans laying about that date from the 1950s when they were first introduced in the UK. What’s more, aluminium can leech into the ground (where we grow our food) and waterways and as its been connected with Alzheimers disease, every can that isn’t recycled is a potential toxic hazard.

Another interesting fact is that if every can sold in the UK were sent for recycling, there would be 14 million fewer general waste bins to empty every year. That alone gives a darned good indication of just how many cans we use.

Another interesting point that I picked up is that the production of virgin cans (no, that doesn't mean cans made by one of Richard Branson's companies and neither does it have anything to do with sex) leaves a HUGE footprint while recycling a can uses just 5% of that energy.

At the moment we’re recycling around 30% of aluminium cans here in the UK so we could do a lot better. Before people throw a can anywhere other than into the recycling bin, I wish they'd ask themselves whether they're really happy for it to hang around the environment for hundreds of years, harming wildlife and potentially humans. Is that really too much to expect?

Sharon J

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. ~Native American Proverb


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Anonymous said...

I'm becoming more and more aware of recycling, I always recycle the basics but want to move it on a bit.My son put cardboard in the normal bin the other day and I nearly had a fit!

I was reading one of your blog links the other day about a lady who had a zero bin waste blog, but I can't find it now!
Do you know which one I mean? If so can you point me in the right direction..thanks Sharon :)

Sharon J said...

I get quite upset when the wrong thing's put in the wrong bin too, although my daughter's been getting much better at it lately. I still can't believe the number of cans that are in my recycling bin this week though, but I suppose I ought to be glad that they're at least in the right place.

I do know which blog you mean. It's The Rubbish Diet. For some reason it had fallen off of my blogroll.

Richard said...

Remember when I went rubbish hunting in the woods with the boys and Luke unearthed two Tesco bags full of perfect Courage Light Ale cans that had a best before date of July 1978 stamped on them? Even the bags were in excellent condition.


Hi Sharon...I wonder if the day my blog fell off the blogroll was the same that I fell flat on my face in my garden.

I love this post about the cans, and is so important to highlight. Some great statistics too, which should get people thinking. :-D


I love that story that Richard mentioned. Would you and Richard mind me using it as an anecdote in something that I'm writing about Rubbish?

Debi said...

Can we dance the can-can in celebration of yet another great post? Please say we can ...

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh, I LOVE your blog! I came here by way of Pixiedust and shall be back for more visits!
Great post!

Catz said...

I "can" remember collecting cans with the kids many years ago and taking them to the asda car park where they would weight them and pay you! something like 50p a sack but it all adds up. It certainly encouraged the kids to pick them up and "keep britian tidy"

Richard said...

Almost Mrs A. The full story is here. Do go ahead with stories of tinny goodness.

apieceofwood said...

A great post Sharon - am linking to it from my blog tomorrow!!

Sharon J said...

@ Richard. I'm sure you must have told me about that but you know what I'm like, so much information swirling around in my head and only so many cells to compute it all with :)

@ Almost Mrs Average. There may well have been a connection - stranger things have been known to happen. I've a feeling that falling off my blogroll would be the least painful of the two though. ;)

@ Debi. You really think I could get my legs up that high? I suppose if we hired a crane...

@ Bohemian Single Mum. Thanks for the compliment. I look forward to 'seeing' you around. It's always nice when new people turn up in the comments :)

@ Catz. In Norway aluminium cans carry a deposit that you get back when you return them to the shop. The same goes for plastic pop bottles. If they did the same here, I'm sure a big chunk of the problem would be eliminated (and my recycling bin wouldn't have been so full this week).

@ A Piece Of Wood. I'm glad you liked the post. One does try ;) Where is your blog? Have I been there before.

WebSmith said...

I'm happy when my son puts anything in a bin. Any bin.

I get about $20 per week from the recycling center for cans and plastic. I'm a diet coke addict.

I have piled up enough unused PVC, left over from 10 years of various projects, to irrigate about a half acre orchard. The recycle center won't take it because no one wants it because it might have been used for plumbing and be contaminated. It uses up a pretty good sized area in the back where I keep my fire wood, brick and other building materials. I have held on to it refusing to take it to the landfill where it would be buried in the ground forever.

My son is having a yard sale tomorrow to get rid of a lot of his stuff in preparation for leaving for the Air Force. Perhaps I will be able to give it away. There's about 400 pink pavers from a job I did for a friend and about 100 cinder block from a handball court I built for the city I'd like to get rid of too.

This is my Dad's truck after I got through replacing the sidewalk leading up to the gate that you see. It did about $60K per year for 20 years so I figure it's worth about a $1 mill after depreciation. I keep it because I don't know what else to do with it. It makes it to the recycle center, dump, and back when I have to go. My son wants me to put it in my will for him.

Sharon J said...

Hmmm... not so easy to just accept anything going in any bin here in the UK, Websmith. We get a hefty fine if we're found to have the wrong thing in the wrong bin.

That's some truck. Amazing that it's still going strong.

WebSmith said...

I notice things that are in the wrong bin, happily put them in the right one, and then congratulate my son for taking such a big step.

As far as I know, they just don't take the bins here if you have them all mixed up.

Not to worry though, now that things are falling apart here, the bureaucrats are busy trying to fix the problems they caused with more laws and regulation. There will be, most likely, a fine soon.

Sharon J said...

Ah, misunderstanding, Websmith. I thought you meant any bin as in anyBODIES bin. We used to pick things up and just pop them into the nearest bin but unless you can be sure what goes in where, it isn't that easy anymore. Each local authority has a different system, y'see. They really like to make things easy for us here ;)

When my daughter was younger I didn't fuss over which bin they went into either - it was good enough that they went in but she's 19 now and perfectly capable of sorting the recycling from the landfill waste.

Frugal Trenches said...

What a great post! I started with reuse, reduce, recycle, now I'm trying to get the 4th R up there....refuse!

I'm still gobsmacked that only 30% of cans are recycled!

WebSmith said...

Kids are funny. I am uncomfortable when things are in disarray and have found that it causes frustration and wastes time when you try to do things, especially with projects involving tools and cleaning.

My daughter picked up on this on her own at an early age and never had to be told to pick things up and put them in the proper place. My son has a mild physiological disability and has been slower in developing. After a few battles, it became apparent that he didn't see untidiness as being untidy so, I adopted the tactic of humorous prodding. He improves constantly.

I think, hope I'm right, and smile about him being ready to take the nose to nose instruction he's about to receive on tidiness from the military instructors. I have been trying to prepare him for it with humorous enactments.

I count getting him through high school as my biggest accomplishment.

Sharon J said...

I love your 4th R, FT. That's something we could all do more of.

Websmith. I wish my kids would pick up on things as easily as yours obviously do. Mind you, the youngest is starting to think more 'green' now. She's been going around switching off lights after her older sister like there's no tomorrow recently :)