Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the world and also one of the most recycled, a fact that can be attributed to the strong price it commands in worldwide commodities markets. It is estimated that over 50% of aluminum cans produced will be recycled, with some countries having a recovery rate of greater than 90%. High recovery rates and the durable nature of aluminum make it a very sustainable metal, with 2/3 of all the aluminum ever produced in use today. Once an aluminum can has been collected it can be found back on the shelves in as little as 60 days, truly a closed loop system.
The recycling of aluminum provides many environmental and economic benefits. Aluminum recycling saves a significant amount of energy. In fact making aluminum cans takes 95% less energy, meaning 20 cans can be produced from recycled aluminum with the same energy needed to produce one can from virgin ore. The waste from throwing away one aluminum can is comparable to pouring out half the can's volume of gasoline. Aluminum is a sustainable metal and can be recycled over and over again. It is also the most valuable recycled consumer product. The marketing of aluminum allows municipalities to recoup some of the cost of recycling other less valuable products, which provides an economic incentive to recycle.
Today it is cheaper, faster and more energy-efficient to recycle aluminum than ever before. Aluminum is 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled indefinitely.
The process of recycling aluminum cans is described below:
Aluminum cans are collected at residential drop-offs and by municipal pick-ups. Once cans arrive at the MRF they will be sorted using a device called an eddy current. The eddy current briefly electrically charges the can causing it to repel from the device off a sorting line into an awaiting bin. After, they condense the cans into highly dense, 30-pound briquettes or 1,200-pound bales and ship them off to aluminum companies for melting.
At the aluminum companies, the condensed cans are shredded, crushed and stripped of their inside and outside decorations via a burning process. Then, the potato chip-sized pieces of aluminum are loaded into melting furnaces, where the recycled metal is blended with new, virgin aluminum.
The molten aluminum is then poured into 25-foot long ingots that weigh over 30,000 pounds. The ingots are fed into rolling mills that reduce the thickness of the metal from 20-plus inches to a sheet that is about 10/1,000 of an inch thick.
This metal is then coiled and shipped to can makers, who produce can bodies and lids. They, in turn, deliver cans to beverage companies for filling.
The new cans are then ready to return to store shelves in as little as 60 days, only to go through the entire recycling process again.