This weekend, most of us will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, one of the most prominent college partying days in the U.S. Come Sunday, Greek Row will be strewn with aluminum beer cans and glass beer bottles, along with other remnants of the weekend’s festivities. I encourage everyone to go out and have a wonderful time! That being said, I also encourage everyone to have a truly “green” holiday (yes, that’s a pun😊) by making just a few simple choices that could actually help the Earth during our celebrations!
Alcohol containers are typically made from either aluminum or glass. Aluminum is the world’s most naturally-occurring metal and has many desirable material properties such as being highly malleable and ductile, along with having an extremely low melting point. These properties make using aluminum in the aviation, automobile, cookware and food and beverage industries advantageous. Glass is another desirable choice since it leaks little to no substances into the drinks it carries, which makes for purer and better tasting drinks. Also, both aluminum and glass are more environmentally friendly than their plastic counterparts and are easily recyclable, which further makes them better drink container alternatives.
However, the production of both options still comes with environmental impacts. For aluminum, there are three production stages: extraction, precipitation and calcination. All of these stages release greenhouse gases into the air, which we know is the largest contributor to global climate change. In fact, according to the Environmental Literacy Council, primary aluminum (non-recycled aluminum) releases more perfluorocarbon emissions into our atmosphere than any other source. Aluminum production also releases sulfur dioxide, a compound that can cause acid rain. For glass production, most of the carbon dioxide emissions come from its melting process, according to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter can also be released during its decomposition and drying processes, which can lead to acidification, smog and respiratory issues for citizens. Obviously, all of these consequences are harmful to both humans and the environment and should be avoided at all costs.
Use of recycled aluminum and glass instead of raw materials is one of the best ways to reduce these effects. One of the biggest advantages to using recycled aluminum versus primary aluminum is the reduction in energy consumption. Recycled aluminum decreases aluminum energy consumption during production by 95%, as reported by the Environmental Literacy Council. This significantly reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released during the production process. Further, using recycling aluminum has no damaging effect on the final product’s quality, making recycled aluminum an obvious raw material choice. Recycled glass also retains its quality, and can be substituted for about 95% of primary glass raw materials. Use of recycled glass in the manufacturing process has also been shown to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, increase lifespans of production equipment and cut energy consumption by 70%. For reference, replacing one ton of primary glass with recycled glass in production processes saves 42 kWh of electricity, 5 gallons of oil and 7.5 pounds of air pollutants being released. These benefits only add to the argument for recycling these two materials.
By no means am I saying we shouldn’t go out and have a fantastic weekend. We should! However, I DO ask we consider throwing our cans and glass bottles into recycling bins (all Frats have them at their parties!) instead of ditching them on the ground. Or, if we’re part of the clean-up crew, we can throw cans and bottles into the recycling bins (all Greek Row recycling is single stream, so we won’t even have to sort them!). These two easy-to-make switches will make for a truly green St. Patrick’s Day.