A Test of Our Mettle: Metal Recycling

Ask basically anyone what materials are recyclable, you’ll probably obtain a very similar list: plastic, paper, aluminum, and glass. While hardly a comprehensive list, many groups have worked exhaustively to show the general public about the recycling triangle, and where to try to find it on various items. Unfortunately, this seems to be where in actuality the public service announcement stops; apparently there are plenty of groups who desire us to know what we could recycle, but surprisingly few trying to tell us what we really should recycle. The reason is that there is a vast spectral range of how economically and environmentally viable the recycling of numerous materials is. While we make judgment calls throughout the day while walking around about what’s worth hunting down a recycling bin for, many people don’t have the appropriate knowledge to produce such a call.


Metal recycling in general and aluminum recycling in particular are extremely viable, efficient forms of recycling. Aluminum recycling is what’s called a “closed-loop” process, by which no fillers or adulterants are added during the recycling process. What goes in is precisely what comes out. Which means aluminum recycling is extremely effective in one of recycling’s major goals, making it so that less raw, new material is needed. Sadly, our tendency to actually pitch our soda cans in the recycling bin when we’re done clocks in at just 50%. We’re much more likely to recycle office paper, sending it into a process that is relatively inefficient.

This is simply not to say that metal recycling should trump office paper, and you should obsess over one or the other. This really is merely to say that our economy of convenience could be hurting the recycling industry, and so our planet. The discrepancy (about 20%) between our office paper recycling and our aluminum can recycling, may be explained by the fact that numerous people simply buy a tiny recycling bin for their office; the solution is right next to the problem. This is rarely the case when we are out and about and finish off a can of soda. While this does mean that owner’s of strip-malls and the like could certainly do their part by accompanying trash cans on their property with a recycling bin, we can also do our part by not giving in to sloth. Carry the can a ways; are you going to the food store later? If so , keep it, lots of grocers have recycling in-house.

Metal recycling doesn’t just stop at aluminum cans either; steel recycling is another form of recycling that is extremely efficient. There was very little loss of quality when steel undergoes the recycling process, and the mining and production costs, both economically and environmentally, of making new steel is exorbitantly higher than the cost of recycling it. Unlike aluminum, this kind of recycling is more a matter of common sense than convenience. When we retire an appliance or other household item that contains steel (the source of most residential steel waste), we usually just have it sent to the dump. Next time, have it sent to the recycling plant; it’s only a matter of thinking about every thing in terms of whether or not it can be recycled, instead of immediately lumping something into “garbage. “