How the Alcoa Foundation Is Pushing for More Recycling

Americans still don’t recycle anywhere near as much as we could, and the Alcoa Foundation is trying to change that. In recent years, this funder has been bankrolling some unique new approaches for ginning up popular excitement about recovering and reusing our garbage. 

RecycleMania is one of them. Administered by Keep America Beautiful, it challenges colleges nationwide to compete to see who can recycle the most trash and downsize overall waste generation the most over eight weeks (early February to late March). Students get in the game by posting digital messages and selfies of their recycling activities, while the program tracks each school’s overall numbers and posts weekly updates on how each school stacks up. Although this year;s numbers aren’t available yet, the 2014 competition reported a grand-total recovery of 86 million pounds of recycled waste. Alcoa is a key RecycleMania sponsor, along with Coca-Cola.

Cans for Pets, administered by the Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) is another recycling initiative with Alcoa support. For every aluminum can that a volunteer recycles, Alcoa donates five cents to a local animal shelter. This program thereby taps into two positive values that many in the general public (hopefully) feel: concern for the environment and love of animals. Since its start in 2012, it’s spread from Pennsylvania to Iowa, Tennessee, and Texas, and recycled more than 300,000 aluminum cans, according to the PRC.

Recycling is a particularly salient issue for the Alcoa Foundation. Consider its parent company: the metals multinational Alcoa. This company is the third-largest aluminum manufacturer on Earth. It’s also a big player in the recycling industry. Alcoa started up recycling centers for recovering municipal metal waste back in the 1960s, and it bought the recycling company Evermore in 2012. In addition, recycled metals are present in around one-sixth of Alcoa’s metal output today.

So on the one hand, Alcoa benefits when more of us recycle our soda cans. On the other, its head honchos may be more cognizant than most people that metal, like anything we extract from the Earth, is a finite resource that we need to use responsibly if we want it to be available (and profitable) for the long term.

The Alcoa Foundation’s interest in recycling makes sense from a few other vantage points, too. First is that Alcoa is a very active funder in environmental conservation in general—and not just recycling. For instance, it gave $300,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation last year for a biodiversity initiative that doles out grants to community-based efforts centered on land management, sustainable farming, and other areas of concern. Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Kentucky, and Washington State were the locations of the first round of grant winners.

It’s also given grants to the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Tennessee Clean Water Network, and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy over the years. Alcoa has likewise supported a number of habitat-restoration and environmental-education projects of the Girl Scouts of America. 

In fact, environmental conservation is one of the foundation’s two stated program areas. The other—and this is a second important point to remember when looking at Alcoa’s recycling-related largesse—is education. Alcoa gives many grants each year to schools and organizations in the communities near Alcoa work sites for K-12 STEM and adult workforce-development programs.

A big chunk of its education grant money, though, goes toward programs that teach environmental sustainability. This includes things like garden classrooms, education programs at nature preserves, and environmental community service school programs. No wonder, then, that Alcoa would chip in for a very environmental and education-centric program like RecycleMania. 

Alcoa’s leadership team apparently hopes, like many conservation-minded philanthropists do, that the general public would make saving the environment and its resources a greater priority if they got the right information. As such, informing and mobilizing communities to conserve is what it’s set out to do. If that sounds good to you, go ahead and give Alcoa a buzz.