It’s well-know that aluminum is the most commonly recycled metal in the United States. There’s good reason for that too – its output (mostly in the form of soda cans) has the biggest consumer reach, and with aluminum recycling programs so popular around the country, everyday folks have incentive to collect and turn in cans. It also helps that aluminum is the most efficient metal to recycle.

The good news is that everyone wins when it comes to aluminum recycling. The better news is that aluminum recycling rates have gone up over the past year – seven percent, from 58.1% to 65.1% in 2011 to be exact according to the group of the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute, and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. From Environmental Leader:

“That means 61 billion cans were recycled in 2011, and that aluminum cans are recycled at a rate that is more than double that of any other beverage container, the organizations say. The industry has a goal of reaching a 75 percent recycle rate by 2015.”

A 75% recycle rate by 2015 means growing roughly by 3% for 2012 (which includes ongoing collected data), 2013, and 2014. However, the numbers aren’t quite as simple as “everyone recycle more!”  Here are further details from Environmental Leader:

“A large part of the increase in the recycling rate was driven by imports of used beverage containers. Imports in 2011 increased by about 25 percent, underscoring the need for improved recycling among US consumers as well as the value of aluminum, the organizations say.”

The import of recycled cans essentially swaps out local used cans for recycled cans sourced from other countries – kind of like buying carbon offsets for energy. That means that there are significant ways that both the industry and consumers can achieve this, thus decreasing the reliance on imported cans. The non-profit group As You Sow noted that the true overall recycling rate is about 35% — which is significant, but certainly far off from the ideal 75% (that is, all of the targeted 2015 goal made up by American recycled cans). Their recommendation is to pin a greater responsibility on manufacturing companies; the other side of the argument is to provide more incentives and accessibility to the general consumer.