Rep. Mina Morita's Blog

Examining the Perils of Mining to Make A Case for Recycling

Posted in Environmental Protection,Legislation/Capitol,Sustainability by Mina Morita on October 13, 2010

Years ago I visited two Hewlett-Packard electronic recycling facilities, one in Nashville, Tennesse while attending the National Conference of State Legislatures and another in Roseville, California while on a vacation.  The concept of “above ground mining” – removing precious metals from discarded products to be recycled for manufacturing new products – was proving to be a cost-effective concept and alternative to mining for virgin materials at these facilities.  This was my impetus to move forward in the legislature an electronic recycling bill after passing the bottle bill.

Recently, the risks and environmental problems of mining have been highlighted by the Chilean miners rescue and the Hungarian bauxite sludge disaster. The “wasting” of non-recycled aluminum cans is discussed in this Massachusetts Lowell Sun Editorial, tying mining with recycling.  For many years Massachusetts bottle bill advocates have been trying to expand their deposit/redemption program to make it similar to Hawaii’s:

That wave of red sludge is the environmental cost of man’s quest for bauxite. Bauxite is usually strip-mined (surface-mining) because it is almost always found near the surface. Bauxite ore is heated in a pressure vessel along with a sodium-hydroxide solution at a temperature of 150 to 200 Celsius. At these temperatures, the aluminum is dissolved and the toxic red sludge becomes a byproduct. For each equivalent of alumina produced, an average plant produces 1-2 times as much red mud. The red mud cannot be disposed of easily. In most countries where red mud is produced, it is pumped into red-mud ponds. These “ponds” are simply wastelands full of red mud. Due to the process used, the mud is highly basic with a pH from 10 to 13. Lake water is normally at a pH of 7. Red mud presents a problem as it takes up land area and can neither be built on nor farmed, even when dry.

About 95 percent of the world’s bauxite production is processed first into alumina, then into aluminum by electrolysis. Yes, that’s aluminum… The same aluminum can that some of you might have considered throwing away as opposed to recycling.

Too much of the “recycling movement” has been focused on issues of landfill space and waste-to-energy facilities. That is only a secondary issue. Recycling is about supplying manufacturers with the feed stocks that they need to make new products. By doing so, we can reduce the energy-intensive and too-often environmentally destructive extraction of natural resources — such as mining for bauxite ore.

Aluminum is one of the most easily recycled commodities. As we all know, making new aluminum cans out of recycled cans takes 95 percent less energy than using virgin bauxite. An aluminum can has 68 percent total recycled content, the highest of any beverage package material.

By recycling or returning our cans for redemption, hopefully we can work toward reducing these sorts of tragic accidents in the future. That is why folks are out there pushing for increased recycling and expanded bottle bills. Forty-one billion cans are wasted annually! In a recent editorial, Roger Guzowski (the recycling manager at Five Colleges Inc.) asked the question “It’s only one can though, right?”

According to statistics from Hawaii’s beverage deposit and redemption program, in fiscal year 2010 413,119,202 beverages in aluminum cans were sold in Hawaii.  329,896,576 cans were recycled.  With a recycle rate of close to 80%, almost 83,000,000 aluminum cans were “wasted”, probably ending up in landfills.  Besides the “wasting” of this important metal, there are significant energy savings when using scrap aluminum.  A can made from recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy than a can made from virgin aluminum.

Prior to passing the beverage deposit and redemption program law, Hawaii’s recycling rate was less than 25%.  Although there is still much work to be done to address Hawaii’s solid waste issues, here’s the impact of the Hawaii’s bottle law which includes aluminum, glass, plastic and bi-metal containers:

Containers Sold

Containers Redeemed

% Recycled

FY 2006


628,818,330 68%
FY 2007




FY 2008




FY 2009




FY 2010




TOTAL 4,612,057,087 3,334,718,624


  • Over 219,960 tons of beverage containers diverted from Hawaii’s landfills and channeled to recycling markets
  • Helped to stabilize and revitalize Hawaii’s recyclers
  • Created 300 jobs statewide
  • Lays the foundation for new businesses to be developed utilizing glass and plastic as resources

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