America Recycles Day – Aluminum Cans and E-Waste

Recyclable Items Poster - America Recycles Day

This year, for the 20th annual America Recycles Day on November 15, 2016, be an eco-hero by forgoing aluminum beverage cans and tackling your e-waste.

I believe this, that, or the other thing “days” or such and such “months” can be informative and inspiring, motivating us to take meaningful actions related to the theme. For instance, Earth Day in 1970 helped launch the modern environmental movement and the proliferation of pink ribbons each October during Breast Cancer Awareness month has surely brought awareness to the issue.

What about America Recycles Day?

America Recycles Day

The first thing you see when you visit the America Recycles Day webpage is an opportunity to enter the sweepstakes drawing for a gift card.

You can use Google Maps to look for an event, join 67,464 other people in making a pledge to start recycling plastic bottles or watch a one-minute I Want to be Recycled video that follows a plastic bottle’s arduous journey to become a plastic bench overlooking the ocean.

The online store offers America Recycles Day booth canopies, flutter flags, and merchandise, like t-shirts, buttons, and pencils made out of newspapers.

Hmmm. Is America Recycles Day promoting recycling or shopping? Buying stuff to later recycle it doesn’t make sense to me.

Aluminum Beverage Can Challenge

Bales of Crushed Aluminum Cans Awaiting Recycling – Photo: West Boylston, MAHere is an aluminum beverage can challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

Picture yourself grabbing an ice-cold aluminum Coke can from the cooler at your local mini mart, guzzling down its contents, and responsibly tossing the empty can in the recycle bin outside the store.

With your thirst quenched, you are feeling good about being a conscientious recycler, right?

Yes, but you could do more.

You probably know that aluminum is a valuable and highly recyclable material, but do you know what is involved in making and later recycling an aluminum beverage can? I did not until I looked into it and found out that aluminum cans have a significant environmental footprint.

Mining and refining bauxite (a major source of aluminum) and smelting aluminum is immensely energy intensive, uses large amounts of water, and generates air, water, and soil pollution. Making aluminum can be harmful to workers and the people who live near mining, refining, or smelting operations. Making the cans and later recycling them involves using additional resources, electricity, and water.

To make matters worse, Americans only recycle 55.1% of our aluminum beer and soda cans, meaning 44.9% end up by the side of the road or in a landfill.

Regardless of whether you recycle the can or not, it seems to me that using aluminum to make single-use disposable beverage cans is not a good idea.

If you agree, take the challenge below.

American Recycles Day Challenge – eliminate the need for recycling aluminum cans by not purchasing them in the first place.

E-Waste Recycling Challenge

E-Waste Dropped Off During Earth Day Event - Photo: Cal Recycle 160

Below is an e-waste recycling challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

All across the country, city agencies, companies, and community organizations offer electronic waste drop-off recycling events on America Recycles Day and at other times throughout the year.

Imagine this scenario. You can finally get rid of your broken laser printer, an e-reader you never use, a 3-year old desktop computer, a collection of cell phones, and an obsolete game console. You load everything in your car and drive to the drop off location where helpful volunteers take custody of your surplus electronics.

Whew. You are feeling relieved to get this stuff out of your closet or garage and off your hands.

By recycling your unused and unwanted electronics you are enabling the valuable and sometimes rare materials they contain to be retrieved and later used to make new devices, reducing the need for mining and manufacturing new materials which can be harmful to people and the environment (ditto aluminum above).

In addition, keeping electronics out of your local landfill prevents toxic materials like mercury from leaching out of broken computer monitors into the ground and polluting your groundwater basin.

It’s all good, right?

Maybe, but ask yourself these questions.

Was there something wrong with my 3-year old desktop computer, or the cell phones, or the game console other than they are not the latest models? Do I feel compelled to replace my electronic devices when a new model comes out? If so, why?

Recycling an electronic device that is in good working order only to turn around and buy a new one just creates more future e-waste.

If the above scenario rings true for you,  take the challenge below.

America Recycles Day Challenge – do drop off our unused and unwanted electronic devices at an e-waste collection event. Then resist the urge to buy a new device.

The Bottom Line

An important and often overlooked aspect of recycling is reducing the need for recycling in the first place.

I acknowledge that change is difficult. It is also rewarding.

If you stop picking up a six-pack of beer in aluminum cans on the way home from work or buying a new cell phone every year, then there is nothing to be recycled.

Now you are an eco-hero.

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