WASHINGTON, June 1 /PRNewswire/ -- This June, in honor of Homeownership Month, Americans can do their part to help ease the strain on millions of households, in a unique yet easy way -- through recycling. When Habitat for Humanity International, one of the world's leading charitable organizations, joined forces with the Aluminum Association in 1997, they had a simple mission: to help eradicate substandard housing with money earned by recycling aluminum cans. With this goal in mind, the national Cans for Habitat recycling program was created. Since its inception, nearly 570 Habitat affiliates and 2,000 recycling centers have joined the Cans for Habitat program. As a result, more than 7.5 million pounds of aluminum cans have been recycled by and for Habitat affiliates -- an equivalent of $2.6 million, all of which has gone to the construction of more than 56 Habitat houses. "Cans for Habitat is a critical fundraising and awareness-building tool for Habitat for Humanity in countless communities across the country," said Millard Fuller, founder and president of Habitat for Humanity International. "More than 50 families have become homeowners thanks to Cans for Habitat and countless others have been touched by this program, whether through volunteering as a can collector, building a home or recycling cans at home or work. I look forward to watching this program expand to further create a bridge between the average consumer and charitable involvement." While the 66 percent national homeownership rate is a positive indicator of a stable economy, there are still 36.5 million people (nearly 14 percent of the population) who live below the official government poverty level and cannot afford simple, decent housing, according to Habitat for Humanity International. These Americans can barely make ends meet and are often forced to choose between paying rent and buying food or clothing. And with rising housing costs in many parts of the country, this issue is far from resolved. Habitat affiliates across the nation are using the Cans for Habitat program as a way to increase community participation surrounding this epidemic. In 2003, two Indiana affiliates, Habitat of Evansville, Inc., and Warrick County Habitat for Humanity, set a world record in the Guinness Book of Records for the most aluminum cans recycled in an eight-hour period during the "You Otter Recycle Your Cans" event. The affiliates partnered with the Evansville Otters, a local minor league baseball team and several other businesses for the event, which raised more than 1,600 in recycled cans. The affiliates are currently planning for the second annual event in mid-July 2004. "We hope that our success will challenge other affiliates to beat our record and recycle more for Habitat, said Sally Gries, community relations director of the Evansville affiliate. "Of course we'd hate to lose our current standing as Guinness Book record-holders, but our primary goal is to benefit the Cans for Habitat program. We are living proof that this kind of achievement is within reach." Randy Fillmore, executive director at Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity in Fort Wayne, Ind., has also experienced longstanding success with his affiliate's recycling program. In 2003, thanks to the help of two lunchroom monitors at a local school, the affiliate began a school can competition that grew to include all 17 schools in the Fort Wayne area. The school that recycles the most aluminum cans during the school year (October-May) wins a day with the local minor league baseball team, which includes food, refreshments and a day at the ballpark. The runner-up wins a pizza party. "We are really pleased with the community participation surrounding this program," said Fillmore. "The 2003-2004 school year generated more than 21,000 lbs. of aluminum cans. Next year we expect to see even more." Despite these accomplishments, there remains room for growth. In fact, 50 billion cans were not recycled in 2002. This number could have built 11,111 Habitat houses across the nation, assuming the rate of one penny per can and the average cost of building a Habitat home in the United States at $45,000. One solution, suggests Cans for Habitat representatives, is to target youth as an effective way of increasing participation and, subsequently, the success of the program. "Cans for Habitat offers youth the perfect way to take an active role in their communities," said Steve Thompson, Cans for Habitat program director. "In many cases, Habitat volunteers must be at least 16 years of age to volunteer at a build site, but anyone can recycle. This program provides youth with a unique way to help their neighbors, while preserving the environment. That's something we can all take pride in." In 2003, the Cans for Habitat program awarded $167,500 in grants to 17 Habitat affiliates throughout the United States as part of the annual grant competition. The grants were given to affiliates that successfully demonstrated their commitment to the Cans for Habitat program through innovative partnerships and efforts in recycling and publicity. This number contributes to the more than $1.5 million in grant money awarded since the first grant competition in 1998. Local affiliates, volunteers, recyclers, national and local retail outlets and civic organizations work together to "Make Every Can Count!" For more information on Cans for Habitat and how you can donate your cans to Habitat, visit the Cans for Habitat Web site at http://www.cansforhabitat.org.
SOURCE Aluminum Association