How many pounds of recycled aluminum cans does it take to build a house? The answer: approximately 126,316 pounds. At least that's what the Aluminum Association estimates, as it tallied results from its ninth annual national Cans for Habitat competition.

Working with Habitat for Humanity International, the association sponsored a recycling initiative in which local Habitat affiliates collected and recycled aluminum cans, with the top amassers winning grants from the association. Four returning Habitat affiliates and three rookie affiliates were awarded grants, ranging from $6,250 to $45,000. Grant winners alone recycled roughly 432,000 pounds of cans, earning them nearly $197,500 in revenue for the construction of homes.

All together, participating Habitat affiliates recycled 700,000 pounds of cans in 2005—that's nearly the same weight as two empty Boeing 747 jumbo jets. The effort generated $380,000 and represented a 25 percent spike from 2004 recycling rates.

TURNING USED CANS INTO FAST CASH: A contest sponsored by the Aluminum association is raising money to help Habitat for Humanity build homes. Winners recycled 432,000 pounds of cans, earning $197,000. Cans for Habitat spokesperson Patrick Kelly says that although the program has not increased the national recycling rate dramatically, it has proved to be a wonderful grassroots initiative. “The virtue is that it really does satisfy this over-used phrase of it's a win-win for everybody; it is a virtuous circle,” he explains. “It's corporate good citizenry; it's local good citizenry, and it is charitable.”

Kelly says that this was the first time that the competition included a rookie category, with the intent to encourage participation from more Habitat affiliates. To enter the competition, local Habitat affiliates must register with the program and commit to reporting recycled poundage every quarter, with the goal of recycling at least 5,000 pounds of aluminum cans. Competitors earn even higher marks if they were able to develop marketing strategies to secure media coverage and generate greater community participation.

Despite the success of the program—since 1997, 95 Habitat homes have been built from the roughly $4.4 million that was earned through the recycling of 12 million pounds of cans—the end may be near. Kelly says that the program expires at the end of 2007 and does not know if it will be renewed.

Pound for Pound Here's a who's who of the top Habitat for Humanity winners in the Cans for Habitat competition.