One million aluminium cans & counting: Recycling contest unlocks major milestone, CMI Reports

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Did you know that over 100 billion-plus aluminium cans are expected to be recycled every year? This indicates that a billion tonnes of recycled aluminium are still in use today! As per Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and Scrap University Kids, a whopping 1.3 million empty aluminium beverage cans were collected during the first Million Cans Recycling contest.

One million aluminium cans & counting: Recycling contest unlocks major milestone, CMI Reports

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With the world moving rapidly towards reducing emissions to save the environment from further degradation, aluminium as a metal has proven to be better than the rest when it comes to being environmentally friendly. This competition, aimed at second—and third-grade students, took place from October 15, 2023, to May 16, 2024, challenging schools to recycle the most aluminium beverage cans.

"The Million Cans Recycling Contest surpassed its one-million-mark goal thanks to the efforts of students, teachers, and parents at the participating elementary schools, as well as the support of each CMI aluminum beverage can sector member that was partnered with a participating school nearby one of its facilities. The Million Cans Recycling Contest demonstrates there is an effective way to actively engage young learners on recycling in a hands-on way while delivering valuable funding for their school," stated Scott Breen, CMI's senior vice president of sustainability.

Total of eight schools participated

Eight schools from Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas participated, collectively gathering more than 1.3 million cans. The selected schools are located in communities with low recycling rates and no curbside recycling systems, ensuring that the collected cans would likely not have been recycled otherwise. This initiative demonstrates that the can-only model, which leverages the relatively high market value of used beverage cans, is effective even in areas with limited or no recycling infrastructure.

The competing schools not only earned valuable funding but also made a significant environmental impact. By selling the used beverage cans to local scrap yards, they diverted over a million empty aluminium beverage cans from landfills, saving enough energy to power a U.S. home for nearly 60 years. The recycled metal from these cans is valued at almost $21,000, a clear testament to the potential of recycling in reducing our environmental footprint.

"This contest was inspired by our children's book. The story became a reality thanks to the spirit of schoolchildren who collected more than a million empty aluminum beverage cans throughout the school year," said Jessica Alexanderson, president of Scrap University Kids. "The book taught a valuable lesson that recycling used beverage cans comes with some significant economic and environmental benefits. These students worked hard and were inspired to become life-long recyclers."

Additionally, CMI provided over $12,000 in funding to schools that met specific challenges or targets during the competition. For instance, the top three schools received grand prizes for collecting the most cans per participating student:

  • 1st Place: Yankeetown Elementary in Newburgh, I.N., will receive a $3,000 prize
  • 2nd Place: Lewisburg Elementary in Logan, K.Y., will receive a $1,000 prize
  • 3rd Place: Rich Pond Elementary in Bowling Green, K.Y., will receive a $500 prize

An honourable mention was awarded to La Vega Elementary in Waco, TX. The Texas school collected over 427,000 cans, more than any other school, thanks in part to its large student population. In addition to the financial funding, CMI provided every second and third-grade student participating in the contest with a copy of the children's book The Girl Who Recycled 1 Million Cans.

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