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Energy Education During Summer Vacation

A few weeks back, I enjoyed a summer vacation at a local beach with my family. A week-long stay with pleasant weather, warm water, good food, and a killer ice-cream stand is just what the doctor ordered. It was a nice respite from the rigors of working for an energy company.

During some of the very limited amount of downtime we had, I was perusing the book shelves in our rented cottage and came across some old National Geographic magazines. One particular issue drew my interest. The 1979 publication contained a recycling ad for Alcoa, a Pittsburgh-based producer of aluminum. It touted the benefits of recycling aluminum beverage cans, in addition to reducing materials needed to make aluminum, conserving energy, and creating jobs.

Sensing an interesting way to compare the recycling world of 1979 to that of the present, I decided  to share with our readers the key stats mentioned by Alcoa and how they relate to today’s (even more) modern world.

NatGeo Article

Image courtesy of National Geographic Vol. 155, No. 6

The 1979 facts:

  • We save 95 percent of the energy needed to create new metal when an aluminum can is recycled.
  • The aluminum industry received 7.1 billion aluminum cans for recycling in 1978. The energy saved by not forging new aluminum was enough to power a city like Pittsburgh for an entire year.
  • An estimated 15,000 new jobs were added to the economy between 1972 and 1979.
  • During the same time frame, over $180 million in revenue were accrued by civic groups and individuals via recycling.

A 2014 comparison:

  • According to the EPA, “When we recycle aluminum cans, we save 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source bauxite.” Clearly, this hasn’t changed.
  • In 2013, the US recycled 62 billion aluminum cans, equivalent to 67% of the 92 billion cans produced that year. The energy saved from this recycling equaled 19 million barrels of crude oil that could fuel more than 1.7 million cars for a full year.
  • According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc., “U.S. scrap exports directly and indirectly support some 162,000 U.S. jobs and generated $30 billion in export sales in 2010.”
  • Americans have earned $25 billion in aluminum can recycling since 1976.

In addition to being the world’s third largest producer of aluminum, and an environmental sustainability proponent, Alcoa has long been a participant in demand response, an energy program that pays clients for curtailing their energy usage during times of peak demand.

A week away from the office should be relaxing. However, there’s never a bad time to be educated and learn new things. Pick up a magazine or ask questions to people who know. You might be surprised at what you learn. And next time you crack open a cold one, be sure to recycle it and not simply toss it away. Who knows how it will affect the world in another 35 years?

As the ad states, “We can’t wait for tomorrow.” When it comes to reusing the earth’s precious materials, and making a greener world for future generations, even summer vacations can take an active role.

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