There are many reasons to love the aluminum can

Through the years, most of us have pressed our lips to it more often than we've kissed the face of any loved one in our lives.

We have spent endless hours cradling it in our hands, never minding its cold touch because, of course, that's one reason why we love it so.

Sure it has changed as it has grown older. But hasn't it only gotten better?

But don't raise a glass � that would be in incredibly poor taste. Raise a can � an aluminum can. For it is the aluminum can we're celebrating here.

The Aluminum Assn. is here to remind us that the can is 35 years old, as well as the many merits of its precious can.

How 64 billion of those used cans are recycled by consumers; how the aluminum-recycling rate � now 62.8 percent � is tops for containers.

"There's one billion dollars a year that our industry pays out for used aluminum cans," says Rick Morris, a consultant for the Cleveland-based Alcan Aluminum Corp.

Recycling wunderkind

Some of that money has gone to very good causes. For example, the Aluminum Assn., a group that represents assorted can manufacturers, has partnered with Habitat for Humanity. The association donates the value of the cans recycled at designated centers to Habitat, so that it may build homes for low-income families.

"The bottom line is, aluminum cans have been very good to Habitat," says Paul Johnson, executive director of Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity.

But of all those who have come in contact with the aluminum can through the years, perhaps no group of people has had a better relationship with this modern marvel than the recyclers themselves.

"Of all the recyclable materials, the aluminum cans are the easiest to work with, for people to collect," says Ken Morford, district manager for Waste Management Recycle America Colorado Springs in Colorado. "The value has traditionally remained high � you don't have to carry a lot of weight."

Indeed, listen to Morford get a little bit mushy while talking about the aluminum can's virtues.

"From a processing perspective, you can sort it very easily either with an eddy current or through a magnetic current. You can do a positive or negative sort, depending on the inbound sources of material."

What other love can you say that about?

RC's foresight

Do you remember those special moments through the years?

Remember that summer day in 1964 when the first 12-ounce, all-aluminum can was unveiled by a major soft drink manufacturer, Royal Crown Cola?

Remember that day three years later when Coca-Cola finally embraced this innovation, or when Pepsi started using a "seamless" aluminum can that same year?

There have been many memorable days since then. There was the auspicious debut of the "stay-on tab" in 1974. How big was that advance? When was the last time you heard someone use the term, "pull-tab litter"?

Of course, the biggest change has been the weight-reduction � an improvement that would make Richard Simmons proud. For instance, by 1994, the weight of a 12-ounce can was down to about .48 of an ounce, a drop from .66 of an ounce in 20 years. All in all, the can is now 75 percent lighter than when it debuted in 1964, and its sides are thinner than two pages of a magazine.

"They've gotten a lot lighter," Morford says. "Right now it takes approximately 32 cans to make a pound. Ten years ago it was like ... 15 cans to make a pound. They've cut the weight of the can in half."

They wrote the book

It's enough history to write a book about � which, coincidentally, the Adolph Coors Company has done. Titled "A Catalyst for Change: The Pioneering of the Aluminum Can," the book documents all that Coors has done to develop the product. It's a page turner to be sure � 101 pages in all.

Granted the account is somewhat subjective � the first two lines of the book read: "Coors. Mention the word and people immediately think of some of the finest beers made."

The book touts "visionary" Chairman of the Board Bill Coors and his effort to get "a pilot aluminum can line" running in the mid-1950s. For his effort, Coors would earn the prestigious Modern Metals magazine's 1960 Man of the Year award. The last drop of Coors beer was poured into a can of steel on November 12, 1971.

It's unclear if this love affair will endure. The aluminum can can only lose so much weight. There are new competitors out there: sleek, hip, with more daunting curves.

We're talking, of course, about plastic.

"I spoke with a person from marketing in the aluminum industry," Morford says. "There's a level of concern about the emergence of plastic packaging ... So who knows?"

All we know is this: Morford still reserves his sweet nothings for the good old aluminum can.

"It does a good job," Morford says. "It's my preference as a consumer."


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