The Green argument

It is expected nowadays that if we are to conserve the Earth's finite resources we must make better use of them, and recycling is one way of reducing the consumption of raw materials.

"The environmental price paid to make an aluminium can is a horrifying one: aluminium is one of the most expensive and polluting metals to produce - the energy needed to make one drinks can is the equivalent of half that can filled with oil.

The metal is extracted from bauxite ore, which is mined on the surface, much of it in tropical forest areas. This mining process destroys large areas of natural vegetation and with it tropical insects, birds and mammals.

Mining leaves the soil bare and erosion then causes the rivers to silt up, depriving fish of their habitats and fishermen of their livelihood. Huge quantities of slag are left behind on sites where alumina has been produced from bauxite. The alumina then has to be treated in a series of chemical processes to produce the aluminium metal. All sorts of pollutants, including fluorine gas, are released on the way.

Melting down an aluminium can so it can be re-used requires just 5 per cent of the energy needed to make a new one. It creates no pollution at all. So every can that is thrown away is a lost opportunity to save energy and preserve the environment.

Of course, aluminium cans should never be used in the first place. Digging up tropical forests in order to extract bauxite and produce aluminium which is then sent all over the world contradicts just about every principle of ecologically sound living that can be thought of. Every country has abundant raw materials for making glass, and it is this eminently recyclable material that should be used to hold drinks.

Taken from 'Blueprint for a Green Planet' by John Seymour and Herbert Giraudet.