Aluminum cans are one of the most commonly used drink containers in the entire United States. They can be found in just about every grocery store, gas station, restaurant, and bar in the country. In 2019 alone, more than 42.7 billion aluminum cans were recycled worldwide, or nearly 60% of all aluminum cans produced.
Recycling saves 92% of the energy that’s required to produce cans from new aluminum. Taking part in aluminum can recycling is great for both the environment and savvy consumers. After all, taking cans to recycling centers will net you some extra money while you do a good deed. Here’s everything you need to know about aluminum can recycling and how to do it in your area.
Where to Recycle Aluminum Cans
If you have plenty of cans to recycle, you should start by finding where to recycle aluminum cans near you. Every local area will have different capabilities and locations to recycle cans, so you may need to do some research.
There are a few common places where you can bring your cans:
- Scrap yards. Almost every city and state in the country has scrap yards that will accept aluminum cans. Contact your local scrap yards to check which ones accept cans from the public.
- Grocery stores. Some grocery stores will have stations for recycling aluminum cans and other containers. Keep an eye out when you get groceries to see if you spot signs for these services.
- Collection centers. Many states will have recycling collection centers for the community specifically designed for items like cans. You can search your town’s name plus “aluminum collection center” to find if there’s one in your area. You can also search “aluminum can recycling near me” in Google Maps to find local recycling centers.
If your area collects recycling during regular trash pickup, you can just drop your aluminum cans in with the rest of your recyclables. However, this isn’t the most efficient method, and it wastes money since you don’t get the potential refund for your cans.
Bottle Bill States
Aluminum cans are impressively recyclable. Several states with environmental protection laws have guaranteed that cans can be returned for a certain amount of money no matter what. These are known as “bottle bill” states because the laws were first put in place to collect glass bottles.
The bottle bill states are:
- New York
Depending on which state you live in, your aluminum cans can be returned for 5 to 10 cents each. That adds up quickly, with a single 12-pack of soda netting you from 60 cents to $1.20 in returns.
The bottle bill states aren’t the only places where you can get money for your cans. Every state has locations where you can sell them, even if you can’t take advantage of bottle bill laws.
Where to Take Aluminum Cans for Money
If you want to make sure you get your time and money’s worth out of your aluminum cans, make sure you take them to a place where you’ll get cash in return. Bottle bill states have the best options since each can is legally guaranteed a certain amount in return.
In other states, you can call around and compare different offers to find which grocery store, collection center, or scrap yard offers the highest rates. If you go through a lot of aluminum cans, it’s worth finding the best rates. A difference as small as a penny per can will add up if you recycle your cans regularly, after all.
What Types of Aluminum Can Be Recycled?
Aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials in the world. It can be recycled into other objects by simply melting it down and pouring it into new molds with some minor refinement along the way.
That means most types of aluminum can be recycled, from your cans all the way to aluminum airplane parts. Not every local recycling program will accept all shapes of aluminum, so it helps to do your research.
For example, aluminum can collection centers may accept only crushed cans. This is especially true if the collection center is a self-serve location. On the other hand, scrap yards can generally accept all types of aluminum, including baking trays, aluminum foil, and even pie plates. Just make sure you wash your aluminum first so it’s clean and won’t contaminate the scrap it’s packaged with.
Why Is Aluminum So Easy to Recycle?
Aluminum is easy to recycle because of a quirk of chemistry. Unlike most other metals, aluminum essentially does not oxidize. When exposed to air, no corrosion or tarnish forms. As a result, aluminum remains safe and stable even after sitting on store shelves and can be safely used to store food.
That purity makes it incredibly easy to recycle aluminum. Instead of needing to remove corrosion, recyclers can just melt down the cans and repurpose the material. This recycled aluminum can be easily reused for things like aluminum cans.
That means aluminum cans are one of the most purely recyclable objects in the world. Most are recycled into new aluminum cans. This is known as “Closed-Loop Recycling,” because there’s almost no need for new aluminum in the process. It can take as little as 60 days for a can to move from the recycling bin back to the shelf as a whole new can.
Can Aluminum Be Recycled Forever?
As long as aluminum is taken care of and cleaned correctly, it can be recycled indefinitely. There’s very little waste of aluminum in the recycling process. Most of the aluminum that goes to waste in the world doesn’t come from aluminum production, it’s what gets thrown out and buried in a garbage dump. The rest of the world’s aluminum can be processed into new goods for much less waste and cost than mining new ore.
In fact, the metal is so recyclable that about 75% of all aluminum ever manufactured is still in use today. In the entire history of aluminum, only 25% of all the metal that has been mined and processed has been lost to time or garbage dumps. If that aluminum could be found, it could be recycled, too.
How to Recycle Aluminum Cans
Recycling aluminum cans properly is relatively simple. Unlike plastic or even cardboard, all aluminum cans are essentially the same. You don’t need to worry about sorting different cans into different bins or picking out non-recyclable cans. There are three simple steps to recycling your cans quickly and easily.
- Collect your cans. You have to have cans to recycle them. It’s worth saving up a decent number of cans before taking them in to recycle because each individual can is probably worth only a few cents at most.
- Clean your cans. To keep your life simple, rinse out your cans as you collect them. Hot water can dissolve the sugar from soda and soft drinks and make the cans acceptable at all locations.
- Choose your recycling location. Once your cans are all ready to go, choose where you want to drop them off. The quickest option is to place them in your recycling bins to be picked up with the trash, if you live somewhere with curb-side recycling. However, choosing a collection center or scrap yard can net you some cash for your time and effort, especially if you have many cans.
Should I Crush Aluminum Cans Before Recycling?
It used to be necessary to crush your cans before recycling them, but that’s no longer the case. Today, you can choose to crush or not to crush. If you bring your cans to a scrap yard or collection center, you might want to crush cans just to save space. On the other hand, if you drop your cans in single-stream recycling, leave them uncrushed so the machines can sort them out more easily.
Top 10 Tips for Recycling Aluminum Cans?
- Cleaning your aluminum cans is better for both the environment and you. If you store aluminum cans while you wait to collect enough to drop them at a scrap yard or collection center, dirty cans might attract pests. Cleaning your cans prevents bad smells and bugs while making it easier for the recycling center to process them.
- If you want to collect more, you can always gather abandoned cans along the side of the road or in public places. This doubles as an act of public service since you’re helping clean up your community. Just make sure you wear protective gloves or use a grabbing tool so you don’t accidentally cut yourself on a dirty can.
- Crushing your cans can save space if you want to return them for cash. If you’re just dropping them in your recycling bin, on the other hand, leave them uncrushed.
- Don’t use your cans for things like ashtrays or other messy materials if you want to recycle them. Ashes and food residue make the recycling process more difficult.
- Unless you choose to use single-stream recycling (at the curb or using public recycling bins), always keep your cans separate from the rest of your recyclables. Having to sort out your bin later can be messy and no fun.
- If you live in a bottle bill state, it’s worth your time to separate your cans and bring them to a collection center. A single 12-pack of soda cans might net you as much as $1.20 in return, depending on the state. If your household goes through a lot of soda or sparkling water, you can see significant returns every month by returning your cans.
- Even if you don’t live in a bottle bill state, it might be worth the drive to drop off your cans if there’s one nearby. If you regularly drive to or through California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, or Vermont, bring your cans with you, and you might be able to pay for the gas for your entire trip.
- If you don’t live near a bottle bill state, call around to local scrap yards to see who accepts cans. These yards will likely take more than just cans, too. Any aluminum you want to get rid of can often be sold to scrap yards by the ounce.
- Even in bottle bill states, you may want to check with scrap yards if you have other aluminum to sell. Higher-grade aluminum like that from baking sheets can often be sold for more per ounce than cans.
- Do your research. Your municipal waste management office should have resources for you to learn more about local scrap laws and ordinances.
How Much Are Aluminum Cans Worth?
The exact value of an aluminum can varies by state and is dependent on the demand for aluminum on the manufacturing side, so the price can change on a regular basis. The amount a can is worth in a bottle bill state should be written on the can, so you can find it easily. Expect 5 to 10 cents per can.
In non-bottle bill states, you’ll need to find your local scrap yards’ rates. In general, scrap yards pay by the ounce or by the pound. Older aluminum cans are generally heavier than newer ones, so older cans are more valuable. Scrap yards may not pay as much per can as bottle bill collection centers, so don’t expect 5 cents a can. However, it can still be worth the time to collect and recycle cans, especially if you have access to a lot of them.
How Much Is a Pound of Aluminum Cans Worth?
Price per pound will vary depending on where you live. In a bottle bill state, if cans are accepted at 10 cents each, and there are 30 to 40 cans per pound, you can expect to make $3 to $4 per pound.
In other states, a good estimate is 30 to 50 cents per pound. If you’re willing to take the time to collect several pounds’ worth of cans, you can see returns that add up over time.
Let Cohen properly recycle your aluminum cans.