What do you need to know about recycling aluminum?
Recycling aluminum is one of the environmentally friendly methods of waste disposal supported by the solid waste management industry. Around 22 percent of the aluminum used in America goes into packaging. This is the second largest use for aluminum domestically, trailing only transportation products, such as automobiles. Americans use 96.7 billion cans, or 315 per person, each year. Aluminum foil packaging is used as a wrapping foil, as semi-rigid packages such as pie plates and frozen food trays, and as flexible packaging such as cigarette foil and candy wrappers.
Recycling aluminum is the most efficient way to process the aluminum waste from these products. Recycling aluminum saves a lot of energy—about 11.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh). That’s because making one pound of aluminum from recycled aluminum material requires only 4 percent of the energy needed to make virgin aluminum from its basic starting mineral (bauxite ore).
Recycling aluminum has environmental benefits, too. Producing new aluminum products from recycled aluminum material emits only about 5 percent of the carbon dioxide released when raw aluminum is manufactured.
Used aluminum items have a high scrap value. Aluminum manufacturers save energy and money by using recycled aluminum, so they will pay you for your old cans. As a result, aluminum is one of the most common metals in the waste stream. Scrap aluminum supplies 33.7 percent of America's aluminum supplies. Recycled aluminum cans supply more than one-fifth of the scrap used as a raw material.
How do old aluminum cans become new aluminum cans?
After you have done your part by taking your old aluminum cans to a recycling center or putting them in the curbside recycling bin, what happens next?
The old aluminum cans are taken to an aluminum reclamation plant. The aluminum cans are shredded into potato-chip sized pieces and fed into a melting furnace. The molten aluminum is gradually hardened into rectangular slabs and then formed into thin sheets of aluminum.
The metal from recycled aluminum cans is usually made into new aluminum cans. This is called closed-loop recycling because the old cans are turned into the same thing again.
Aluminum also can be recycled over and over again. Aluminum does not lose its quality, and recycling aluminum saves energy every time.
Aluminum Packaging Municipal Solid Waste Facts:
- 3.41 million tons, or 1.36 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) by weight in 2010.
- 11.99 pounds (lbs) per person per year, including 9.32 lbs. of cans and 2.67 lbs. of foil per person per year.
- 730,000 tons, or 39.7 percent recycling rate.
- 690,000 tons, or 50.7 percent for aluminum cans.*
- 40,000 tons, or 10 percent for aluminum foil.*
- 57.4 percent aluminum can recycling rate in 2009 according to industry data.
Aluminum Landfill Volume:
- 6.5 million cubic yards or 1.6 percent of landfilled MSW in 1997.
- 5.3 million cubic yards of aluminum cans and 1.2 million cubic yards of aluminum foil in 1997.
(Sources: Waste Age, Aluminum Association, “Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 1998,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington, “Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2010 Facts and Figures,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington, Scrap Specifications Circular 2007, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, *2009 EPA estimates.)
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