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The Process of Recycling Aluminum

Posted on 25 April 2016

Demand for aluminum products is ever growing. It’s primarily because aluminum products are so versatile. And while aluminum remains one of the most widely used metals, traditional aluminum cans remain the most recycled item worldwide. Aluminum is used in practically every aspect of transportation; in food and product packaging; in power transmission wires; and in every facet of construction. But what really matters with aluminum is the excellent potential for recycling, the high waste and scrap value, and its low energy requirement during the recycling process.

Industry statistics show that aluminum product recycling has doubled since the 1960’s. Global recycling is at a very high level, with recovered aluminum accounting for high percentages of new material.  As for beverage cans, over 50% are collected, processed and recycled into new.

Aluminum doesn’t degrade in composition or integrity during the recycling process. And unlike other metals, its physical structure does not alter during the melting process. As well, recycled aluminum only needs 5% of the energy that’s used to produce new (primary) aluminum.

Interestingly, aluminum can be recycled over and over again (endlessly) without any loss of the material properties. Collection systems have improved over the years, and processing methods have benefited from scientific and technological advances. Recycling is high performance.

Needless to say, recycling aluminum for re-manufacture dramatically reduces the need for raw materials and further reduces usage of energy. Best of all, recycled aluminum is used universally: for aircraft and automobiles; computers and cookware; and of course, beverage cans.

Aluminum cans are the most recycled consumer products throughout the world. In fact, recycling the cans is considered a “closed-loop process” because the scrap cans are actually recycled and remade into new cans. From every respect, it’s an efficient process from end to end.

Aluminum beverage can recycling is straightforward, productive and profitable.

  1. Scrap is collected from a wide variety of sources (mostly residential and commercial).
  2. It’s compressed into bundles at scrap collection facilities, then shipped for melting.
  3. The scrap is shredded and crushed (and stripped of impurities), ready for the furnace.
  4. The molten aluminum is converted into bars, and then fed into a rolling mill to flatten.
  5. The recycled metal is rolled and shipped to beverage can manufacturers to make cans.
  6. New cans, filled with new beverages, are back on store shelves within as little as 60 days.

With aluminum packaging, recycling and processing are slightly different, because of the type of product involved. Here, sorting and separating facilities need to effectively isolate and extract the aluminum for further processing. It’s a complex process, but with excellent results.

Aluminum recycling is truly one of the most productive and cost effective industrial processes: it allows for the material to be used in a myriad of applications; it preserves raw, original materials; it serves to reduce toxic emissions; and it significantly conserves energy. This is a win-win for all of the industries involved, for consumers around the world, and for the environment as a whole.

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