Why recycle aluminium?
Why recycle aluminium?
Producing aluminium from raw materials is an expensive and complex process. However, it has the ability to be melted down and reformed without losing any of its quality; its atomic structure is not altered during melting. In fact, aluminium can be recycled over and over again with 100 percent efficiency and only 5 percent of the energy used to make new aluminium is needed. In theory, there could be a time when we have mined all we need and can just keep re-using the aluminium we already have. Aluminium scrap has a high market value as the energy needed for primary production is stored in the metal itself and consequently, in the scrap too.
Process for recycling
Aluminium cans and foil are disposed of in a recycle bin. It is then collected and taken to a treatment plant. At the treatment plant, the aluminium is sorted and cleaned and goes through a re-melt process. This turns it in to molten aluminium which removes any coatings and inks. The aluminium is then made into large blocks known as ingots; each one contains about 1.6 million drinks cans. The aluminium is then ready to be manufactured in to a new product. This can be in as little as 6 weeks.
The effects of recycling
The world’s stock of aluminium is like a resource bank. Around 75 percent of aluminium ever produced is still in use and much of it has been through countless recycling. With the energy it takes to make enough aluminium for one new drinks can, 20 recycled ones can be made. Therefore, the more times aluminium gets recycled, the more energy efficient it becomes.
• 1 recycled drinks tin saves enough energy to power a television for 3 hours.
• If every aluminium can in the UK were recycled, we would need 14 million fewer dustbins.
• In 1989, just 2% of aluminium cans were recycled. Today, the recycling rate for all aluminium packaging stands at 48% and for aluminium drinks cans, it has reached 60%.
• Recycling cars
• Approximately 25 % of the aluminium produced every year is made for the transportation sector and the use of aluminium in car production is growing. In Europe, 95 % of the aluminium scrap from cars is currently being recycled.
• From 1990-2012, aluminium used in cars from Europe went from 50kg to 140kg.
• By 2020 this amount could reach 180kg if smaller cars follow the same development
• Recycling buildings
• Each year around 13 million metric tons of aluminium is used in the construction industry and 220 million metric tons of aluminium is currently in use in buildings worldwide. After demolishing a building, aluminium can be recycled in a way that is economically and environmentally sustainable. This makes it quite unique as a building material. A study in 2004 found that collection rates for aluminium in European buildings were between 92% and 98%.
• Recycling packaging
• There are basically two different types of packaging:
• Food and drink cans, aerosol cans and menu trays.
• Flexible packaging where a thin aluminium foil used as a barrier material to plastics or cardboard.
• Flexible packaging waste has low aluminium content, because the packaging is very thin but the aluminium can still be extracted by using special techniques. How much packaging material that is collected in each country depends on many variables. In Europe, 70% of aluminium cans are recycled and 50% of rigid packaging.