Plan a Community Service Event

Help your friends and neighbors learn about science and the yearly theme with this year’s community service event.

Recycle Those Marvelous Metals!

Recycling is a process used to make new items from products that have been used before. This reduces the use of fresh, raw materials. It also reduces energy usage, air and water pollution, and waste disposal. In addition to recycling metals, you can also recycle products made from glass, paper, plastic, textiles, and electronics.

What do you do with an aluminum (Al) soda can when you finish drinking from it? Do you place it in the trash, or put it in a recycling container? What about the metal cans in your kitchen cabinets that contain vegetables, soup, and tuna fish?  Steel cans are one of the oldest forms of food packaging, dating back to the 14th century! They are often lined with tin (Sn), and are referred to as “bi-metal” cans. The tin coating prevents rust and food contamination, but this has no effect on the recyclability of the product. Putting aluminum and bi-metal food cans in a recycling container is always the best choice. Some states even give you money back for aluminum cans — does yours? 

Did you know that a used aluminum can may be recycled and back on the grocery shelf in as little as 60 days? The energy required to recycle one aluminum can is 1/20 of that required to make one aluminum can from bauxite ore, which is where aluminum is found in nature. A lot of energy is needed to convert bauxite ore into aluminum metal, because the ore must be heated to 1000oC. That means that for each aluminum can you recycle, you save enough energy to run a TV for three hours. We waste a lot of energy by throwing away materials that we could recycle instead.

Reusing aluminum and other metal objects over and over (recycling) is a sustainable process. Sustainability is the replacement or renewal of resources as fast as they are consumed. There is no limit to the amount of times that these marvelous metal cans can be recycled! Your hometown may provide trash containers so that you can separate your metal recyclables right at home. Does yours? If not, your town’s website may list stores or collection centers that accept recyclables.

Here are two of the many ways that you can get more involved with recycling those marvelous metals!

Organize a Recycling Event in Your Community

America Recycles Day, a program of Keep America Beautiful, is a nationally recognized day dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the United States. Every year on or around November 15 (America Recycles Day) event organizers like you can help by educating neighbors, friends, and family through thousands of events. Keep America Beautiful has created a series of guides, tools, and tips to make it easy to organize your local event. These resources can be found at www.americarecyclesday.org.

Take a Field Trip to Your Local Recycling Center

Visiting a recycling center allows students to see in action what they’ve been reading and talking about in terms of waste recycling in general and aluminum and bi-metal cans in particular. There are approximately 10,000 recycling centers in the United States, so there should be one near you!  

This year’s community event was written by Dr. Verrill M. Norwood, III.
Verrill M. Norwood, III, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Chemistry at Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee.