Think of all the cat food cans you've opened in your history of feeding cats. Imagine if recycling each can generated a five-cent donation to an animal shelter. Would you peel off the label, rinse out the can and toss it into a container to take it to the shelter so they could cash it in?
It adds up quickly—the Animal Rescue League and Wildlife Center (ARL) in Pittsburgh was presented with a check totaling $325 from the Alcoa Foundation for five cents for each of 6,500 aluminum cans donated to the shelter for recycling as part of the Cans for Pets Program between its November 1, 2012 inception and mid-January when the cans were first counted.
"This first donation of $325 will provide funding for the shelter to purchase more than 450 cans of pet food to feed the animals in our care,” ARL Executive Director Dan Rossi said. At the check presentation a cart was stacked with 450 cans of pet food so people could see just how much those donated cans represented in actual food for the animals in the shelter.
Cans for Pets, and why recycling aluminum is important
The Alcoa Foundation launched the "Cans for Pets" campaign in partnership with the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) as a two-year effort to raise awareness while increasing the total number of aluminum pet food cans recycled each year. According to an industry survey, the recycling rates for aluminum pet food cans is significantly less than that of aluminum beverage cans: a 20% rate for pet food cans vs. 65% rate for beverage cans.
Recycling any material is an great thing to do for a number of reasons, but recycling aluminum is especially good. Unlike many other materials that are commonly recycled such as paper, plastic and other metals, aluminum can be recycled an infinite number of times without degrading or "downcycling".
"Seventy-five percent of all aluminum produced since 1888 is still in use today," said Kevin G. Lowery, Director of Corporate Communications at Alcoa, Inc. "It takes 95% less energy and emissions to recycle aluminum than it does to mine bauxite and manufacture new aluminum." So recycling eliminates mining, transportation of raw materials and the processes of turning bauxite ore and other minerals into new aluminum which requires a large amount of electricity.
As an example of what that 95% energy savings represents, the energy saved from recycling one pound of aluminum could power an average home for four days, and recycling one 3 oz. aluminum pet food can saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for over 2 hours.
Where a material like the plastic in water bottles is down-cycled into a non-food-grade item like carpet backing or plastic replacements for wood and metals in industrial and household items, "There’s no limit to how many times an aluminum pet food can may be recycled, which means that an aluminum pet food can that someone recycles today can be made into a new pet food can and be back on store shelves in as little as 60 days," Lowery explained.
"We don't want to see a single ounce of aluminum go into a landfill," Lowery said. Asked why Alcoa would promote the recycling of aluminum rather than the manufacture of new material from a profit standpoint, he said, "Alcoa is the largest recycler of aluminum in the world."
"Cans for Pets is a simple concept, but it's definitely a win-win for everyone involved," according to PRC Regional Director Dave Mazza. "Pets get to enjoy their favorite meals, pet lovers get a chance to keep empty aluminum pet food cans out of local landfills, and the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center receives 5 cents for every aluminum pet food can collected as part of this project."
The Cans for Pets goal is to recycle 20,000 aluminum pet food cans by 2014.
Determining if your can is aluminum and preparing it for donation
Many pet food manufacturers and independent packagers use both aluminum and steel cans. I've seen popular brands such as Fancy Feast, Friskies and 9 Lives packaged in either metal, but more often than not the cans are aluminum, especially the smaller cans ranging from three to four ounces. The larger cans ranging from five to six ounces seem to be slightly more aluminum than steel, and most of the largest cans holding 13 to 15 ounces seem to be steel.
Sometimes you can tell an aluminum can from a steel can just by handling them; aluminum is lighter in weight, thinner and more flexible than steel, and often lighter in color as well, appearing more silver than the darker gray of other metals. But if you can't figure out if your can is aluminum or not by handling it, use a magnet—even a refrigerator magnet will work. If the can isn't attracted to the magnet, it's aluminum, and if the can is attracted to the magnet it's likely steel and you may also see the "Steel Recycles" logo on the can's label.
And "the can" includes the lid, whether it's opened with a pull-tab or a can opener. The paper or plastic label should be removed from the can, and both the can and the lid should be rinsed so that no food residue is left. This can be difficult because the lid itself as well as the rim of the can often have sharp edges, but rinsing the can briefly as soon as the food is removed often cleans most of the residue, and soaking in warm water for a few minutes can help to remove the rest, using a thick rag or small sponge to get the last of it and protect your fingers.
"Cleaning the can is important to whether or not this program will succeed," Lowery added.
Aluminum cans are coated inside during can manufacturing to keep the metal from oxidizing and reacting with the can's contents. This coating has most often been Bisphenol A (BPA) which has been found to have some serious effects on health, but many manufacturers are turning to other resins which don't have the health effects of BPA. The only packaging material which has virtually no reaction with its contents is glass, but glass is fragile leading to a lot of waste, and it's heavy, much more expensive and energy-intensive to ship.
If you're uncertain about your can's composition, just add it to your regular recycling bin if your community already recycles metal cans. If you make a mistake and toss in a steel can, the can will still be recycled—everything that can be recycled is recycled—but won't count toward the shelter donation.
And one donor didn't have any empty cans to donate but wanted to help. "She offered us a case of Friskies in aluminum cans so we could add them to the donation bin when they were empty," Rossi said. Rest assured the shelter staff and volunteers are diligently rinsing all the aluminum cans from feeding animals and adding them to the bin.
"The Cans for Pets program is a great motivator for citizens and businesses to get involved in an effort that will help thousands of animals and enrich the lives of new adopting families," Rossi said.
Alcoa instituted Cans for Pets in Pittsburgh because this is where the company was founded and still has its headquarters. The Alcoa Foundation regularly works with organizations and businesses in the Pittsburgh area with innovative environmental and philanthropic programs to benefit residents, neighborhoods, schools and businesses.
"We can always find partners here for our projects," Lowery said. "Without those partners in community and business, our projects would never succeed."
In order to continue encouraging pet owners to recycle their pet food cans they'll be taking this program to two other cities in 2013, and they're hoping to find the same level of partnership from those cities as they have in Pittsburgh.
Where to take your cans
Individuals can drop off empty pet food cans during regular business hours at the following locations, and visit their website for maps to each place:
ANIMAL RESCUE LEAGUE
6620 Hamilton Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Hours: Sat., Sun., Mon: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tues-Fri: 8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.
ANIMAL RESCUE LEAGUE WILDLIFE CENTER
6000 Verona Road, Verona, PA 15147
Hours: Daily 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.
(412) 345-7300 x500
THE DOG STOP
2858 Banksville Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Hours: Mon.-Fri: 6:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Sat. & Sun: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
PENNSYLVANIA RESOURCES COUNCIL
64 S. 14th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203 (South Side off Carson St)
Hours: Mon-Fri: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m
(412) 488-7490 ext. 246
To learn more about Cans for Pets, made possible through the generous support of the Alcoa Foundation, visit www.prc.org or call the Pennsylvania Resources Council at 412-488-7490 x246. You can also find Cans for Pets on Facebook.
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- Gratuitous photo of guys with kittens, Kevin G. Lowery, ALCOA and Dan Rossi, ARL with Kung-Pow and Dumpling at the check signing.
THE PENNSYLVANIA RESOURCES COUNCIL, established in 1939, is one of the Commonwealth's oldest citizen action environmental organizations. Recognized as a state and national leader in waste reduction and recycling, the remainder of PRC's work focuses on litter and visual blight prevention, watershed awareness, and composting. The strength of PRC's programs is derived from its continuing efforts to bring people, businesses, and government together to prevent and solve environmental problems. For more information, visit www.prc.org.
ALCOA FOUNDATION is one of the largest corporate foundations in the U.S., with assets of approximately US$446 million. Founded 60 years ago, Alcoa Foundation has invested more than US$570 million since 1952. In 2012, Alcoa Foundation contributed more than US$21 million to nonprofit organizations throughout the world, building innovative partnerships, engaging its people to improve the environment and educating tomorrow's leaders. The work of Alcoa Foundation is further enhanced by Alcoa's thousands of employee volunteers who share their energy, passion and purpose to make a difference in the communities where Alcoa operates. Through the company's signature Month of Service program, in 2012, a record 60 percent of Alcoa employees took part in more than 1,050 events across 24 countries, reaching 36,000 children, serving 13,000 meals, recycling 265,000 aluminum cans, and supporting 2,050 nonprofit organizations. For more information, visit www.alcoafoundation.com.
THE ANIMAL RESCUE LEAGUE OF WESTERN PA’s mission is to provide temporary shelter, food, medical attention, and comfort to all abandoned, neglected and injured animals brought to us by the community; to restore lost animals to their owners or seek new homes for them; and to educate the public about the humane care of animals with a goal of reducing overpopulation. For more information, visit www.animalrescue.org.
Please see my post from yesterday to see cats for adoption at the Animal Rescue League—donating cans helps fund all the programs of the Animal Rescue League.
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