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Friday, 02.4.2011 / 2:35 PM ET / Blue & Gold Make Green
By Michael Jafari  - Graduate Assistant (2010)
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Soda can be packaged in both aluminum cans and plastic bottles, but many of us wonder: what is the difference between the two choices?

Environmentally, aluminum is the better option, as it is the most valuable and cost-effective material that we recycle and can be turned into new cans over and over again.

Aluminum is a silvery, white metal that is the third-most common element after oxygen and silicon.  What makes aluminum different from most minerals is its ability to withstand rust.  Because of this feature, aluminum is used in the structure of buildings, cars, poles and even space shuttles. 

In addition, aluminum is 100% recyclable.  Recycling centers can melt aluminum and reshape it into scrap metal.  According to the Aluminum Association, recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy that is needed to produce it from ore, so it is considerably less expensive to recycle it.

Plastic is a man-made material that is created by linking together several large molecules.  Petroleum and natural gas are the most common materials that make up most plastics.  Because of its synthetic texture, plastic can be recycled into textiles, carpets and bottles.  Since it is made up of fossil fuels, plastic does not rot and you can mold it into several different shapes. 

However, many types of plastics are not easy to recycle because it is difficult to form a new product from them.  Research conducted by in 2008 suggests that recycled plastics represented only about 7% of the plastics disposed of, and recycled aluminum represented about 21% of the aluminum disposed of in 2008.

Also, the fossil fuels used to create plastic are non-renewable sources of energy.  According to an article by, it is estimated that 17 million barrels of oil are directly used to produce plastic water bottles alone every year. 

Although aluminum and plastic are both recyclable, aluminum is friendlier to the environment because it is formed with considerably less energy and is put together without the use of limited resources. 

If aluminum packaging is hard to come by, then make sure you purchase water or soda bottles that have an eco-slim cap.  The eco-slim cap contains 20% less plastic than the ordinary bottle in an ongoing effort to keep the environment more eco-friendly.  If you’re at home and are looking for something to drink, remember to use a re-useable glass to refill your drink so you can conserve the plastic bottles around your home.

By taking the effort to switch to aluminum cans, purchase eco-slim bottles and use refillable cups, you can make a difference in turning our community into a greener environment.  For more tips on staying healthy and going green at home, or to become a Green Team Member, click here.

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