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Opinion: How to increase aluminum can recycling in Illinois < Illinois

This stagnation in recycling rates also applies to the most valuable beverage packaging in the recycling streams: aluminium. While the aluminum can’s 45% U.S. recycling rate in 2020 makes it the most recycled beverage container in the United States, it means that more than half of aluminum beverage cans — more than $800 million worth of infinitely recyclable aluminum Dollars lost in landfills in 2020. This represents a missed environmental and economic opportunity for many states, including Illinois.

In fact, aluminum’s inherent value, the highest of any beverage packaging type, makes recycling facilities operations critical to recycling facility operations. And the beverage can is a true example of sustainability and circularity, as recycled cans can return to store shelves in their original form in just 60 days. This valuable material can be recycled forever, with 75% of all aluminum produced still being used today.

Illinois should clearly reap the benefits of recycling more aluminum beverage cans. Eunomia’s 50 States of Recycling survey shows that the recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans in Illinois was just 24% in 2018. At that rate, just over 1 billion cans are recycled annually in Illinois. But if Illinois achieved a 90% recycling rate, an additional 2.8 billion cans would be recycled rather than discarded or landfilled, resulting in more than $45 million worth of aluminum reuse and greenhouse gas emissions savings. which is equivalent to avoiding nearly 3.5 million car trips in Chicago and Springfield.

Now Illinois has an opportunity to demonstrate its economic and environmental leadership by enacting public policies that increase recycling rates of aluminum cans and other beverage packaging.

Illinois Senator Laura Murphy is leading the way. She introduced legislation that would establish a “recycled refund program,” also known as a beverage container deposit system. These programs charge a fully-refundable deposit on beverage containers made of various materials such as aluminum, glass, plastic, and others. Consumers pay this deposit at the time of purchase, and when they are done with their empty beverage containers, they can return them to appropriate redemption locations to receive their refund. In short, consumers buy the drink and rent the container.

At Ardagh Metal Packaging, a global leader in sustainable metal beverage cans with North American headquarters in Chicago, we support such legislation. In fact, we were pleased to recently welcome Murphy and several other state legislators to our Chicago beverage can facility to see first-hand how these products are made and to discuss the importance of maintaining the value of beverage cans to capture and increase the recycling rate in Illinois.

Undoubtedly, it’s time for Illinois to speak up to meet environmental goals and implement proven and valuable recycling laws. Ten states and many countries around the world already have recycling reimbursement programs and enjoy consistently high recycling rates. In fact, the Container Recycling Institute found that on average, aluminum beverage cans sold in the US with a deposit are 77% recycled, while aluminum beverage cans sold without a deposit are only 36% recycled. For other packaging materials, such as plastic and glass bottles, the calculated gap is even larger.

Aside from increasing recycling rates and the associated economic boost and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a recycling reimbursement program would also benefit taxpayers. Consider the potential savings from the need for less garbage cleaning. Illinois spends more than $6 million annually on freeway garbage disposal, and the Chicago Park District spends an additional $4.7 million on garbage pickup each year.

We’re not the only ones who want Illinois to do more. In a recent poll, more than 80% of Illinois voters said they support a recycling reimbursement program. Enabling residents to recycle more easily and conveniently should be a priority for government leadership.

Illinois would have much to gain from a convenient recycling system that incentivizes consumers, tracks metal value, and significantly reduces emissions. It is time for elected officials and business leaders in our state to fully align with the recycling legislation that enables the state to be an environmental leader and achieve excellence in circular economy and sustainability.

Claude Marbach is CEO of Ardagh Metal Packaging North America.