Aluminium can litter

Trash to treasure

Some people play bowls. Some collect ash trays. I pick up aluminium cans. It’s probably not correct to call it a hobby. Strictly speaking, I think it would be diagnosed as an obsession. But I had my life under control until a few weeks ago. Red Bull and Monster energy drinks were about the only aluminium cans scattered along the roadside, apart from the odd imported beer. I would return from a jog or a walk with a small handful.

The people at Nampak—in their wisdom—have changed all that for me. The photo above shows part of the haul from a single bike ride from Marlboro to Victory Park. (I dropped off my car for repairs and rode home using the bike I had brought in the car.) It was difficult to ride a full block before another shimmering aluminium cylinder caught my eye. Coca-Cola, Fanta, Castle Lite, Hansa, these were all packaged in tin-lined steel cans until about a month ago. Now they come in aluminium.

There is a method to my madness. No other beverage packaging has such a high carbon footprint and yet is so recyclable. This explains why each aluminium can is worth 9 cents to a recycler, while a tin drink can is worth less than 3 cents, even though it is much heavier. I have written about this before, here and here. The basic lesson is that compared to throwing away an old-fashioned steel beverage can, if you throw away one of these shiny lightweights, you lose at least 3 times as many points on that great big green scorecard in the sky.

There may come a time when street collectors recognize sufficient value in these cans to pick up the aluminium litter strewn about. For now, they mostly look for easier pickings. When I have a bin full of aluminium cans, I find a recycler on the street collecting metal and hand over my collection. I could more easily put the bag next to my wheelie bin on collection day, but I am selfish. The true satisfaction I derive from my hobby comes from seeing the face of the recycler when he takes possession of my treasure.