Mesek Metal

Useful Information

Quick Read

Aluminum producers and recyclers in the aluminum industry work with individuals, communities and businesses to enable both curbside and industrial recycling programs. UBC (used beverage container) recycling is the most readily recognized of the recycling programs. Aluminum is also recycled at the end of life from products such as cars and building parts. Window frames, wire, tubing and electronics are additional examples of aluminum that is recycled at the end of life.

Take-Away Facts

  • The most valuable material in the recycling bin
  • Aluminum is the most recyclable of all materials. Discarded aluminum is more valuable than any other item in the recycling bin.
  • Aluminum cans lost to landfills
  • Americans throw away nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum cans every year.
  • A billion dollars in recycling profit is open
  • The aluminum industry pays out more than 800 million dollars a year for recycled cans. The U.S. industry can recycling rate is approximately 67 percent, thus nearly a billion dollars of recycling profit can be gained.
  • Recycling from can to iPod
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on an iPod. In 2007, in an open letter to Apple, Steve Jobs encouraged the company to expand its own product recycling efforts. The company has set a goal of 70 percent recycling efficiency by 2015.

    Aluminum Recycling
    Recycling collection

    Aluminum is recycled through a variety of programs. The most commonly recognized consumer programs are curbside and municipal. In these programs, items like beverage cans, aluminum foil, aluminum baking trays and pie pans are recycled. The aluminum industry actively supports the Curbside Value Partnership, which is a program dedicated to increasing participation in curbside recycling programs and to measure this growth using solid data. Within the industry, building and automotive parts are collected for recycling. More than 90 percent of the aluminum in building and automotive parts is recycled at the end of use. All of these items serve as a feedstock and are sent to aluminum recyclers to be melted down in the secondary production process.

    Recycling continuously

    Aluminum is one of the most recycled -- and most recyclable -- materials on the market today. Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced in the U.S. is still in use today. Aluminum can be recycled over and over again without any loss to quality. In fact, an aluminum beverage container can be recycled and back on the shelf in 60 days.

    Recycling is economical

    The economics of aluminum also contributes to its position as one of the most-recycled metals in the U.S. Unlike many other materials, aluminum more than pays for its own recycling in the consumer and industrial waste stream. The reason: demand for aluminum continues to skyrocket and recycling aluminum saves more than 90 percent of the energy required versus producing new metal.

    Recycling in WWII

    During WWII, aluminum foil was so vital to the defense effort that families were encouraged to save strips of foil. In many towns, the foil balls could be exchanged for a free entry to a movie theater. Government-sponsored posters, ads, radio shows, and pamphlet campaigns urged Americans to contribute to scrap drives. A New York radio station, WOR, debuted the radio-sketch show "Aluminum for Defense" in 1941.


    Frequently Asked Questions How is the recycling rate defined and calculated?

    For aluminium, three recycling rates apply:
    1. The recycling input rate (recycled aluminium/total aluminium supplied to fabricators)
    2. The end-of-life recycling efficiency rate (aluminium recycled from old scrap/ aluminium available for collection after use)
    3. The overall recycling efficiency rate (recycled aluminium/aluminium available for collection at production, fabrication and manufacturing and after use)
    The recycling input rate does not reflect the recycling activity of the aluminium industry. It purely takes into account the origin of the metal, i.e. primary or recycled. The amount of recycled aluminium is based on statistics pertaining to the remelters' production from tolled and purchased scrap and the refiners' production. Furthermore, the recycling input rate is significantly influenced by import and export activities at all life cycle stages. Thus a healthy fabrication industry which is able to export its products "destroys" the recycling input rate per definition.
    The end-of-life and the overall efficiency rate is obtained by multiplying the collection rate (aluminium collected/ aluminium available for collection) by the treatment efficiency rate (aluminium treated/aluminium collected) by the melting efficiency rate, also termed net metal yield (aluminium recycled/ aluminium treated).
    The recycled aluminium referred to in the recycling efficiency rates is therefore not determined on the basis of statistics, but calculated by means of a material flow model. Collection rates differ greatly, however. New scrap has a collection rate of almost 100% and aluminium from buildings approximately 96%. The collection rate of aluminium beverage cans has reached 52% in 2005 and this figure continues to rise. But aluminium utilised in powder, paste and for deoxidation purposes is defined as impossible to recycle after use, because it loses its metallic properties. Aluminium metal losses incurred during separation treatment range from 0% (no treatment necessary) to 10%.
    Melting losses are defined as the proportion of metal in the scrap lost during melting, which therefore excludes all aluminium oxides found on the surface of scrap prior to melting. Delft University of Technology and the OEA determined in a joint research project how resourceconservative the industry is when melting aluminium scrap and found that melting oxidation losses are on average 2%.
    The end-of-life recycling efficiency rate can also be used to provide productspecific definitions for life cycle analysis purposes. Here, the recycling rate of one specific product, such as end-of-life vehicles, is calculated.

    How much energy is saved by aluminium recycling compared to primary aluminium production?

    The energy required to produce one tonne of recycled aluminium ingots from clean scrap can be as little as 5% of the energy needed to produce one tonne of primary aluminium.
    However, aluminium scrap is frequently mixed with other materials and additional energy may be required to separate the aluminium and protect the environment from the impact of these materials. Further energy needs relating to both the primary and recycled aluminium production chain are dependent on the technology applied and the geographical location, and therefore on local energy mix and efficiency as well as transportation distances.
    Hence, it is only possible to calculate overall magnitude of a universal value for energy savings.

    Is it possible to recycle aluminium without loss of properties?

    Yes, recycled aluminium can have the same properties as primary aluminium. However, in the course of multiple recycling, more and more alloying elements are introduced into the metal cycle. This effect is put to good use in the production of casting alloys, which generally need these elements to attain the desired alloy properties. For instance, in the composition of alloy EN-AC 46000 (Al Si9Cu3 (Fe), containing about 9% silicon and 3% copper), which is widely used for automotive applications like cylinder heads and gearboxes, the need for alloying elements is manifestly clear. Approximately 26% of aluminium in Europe is used for castings, where aluminium scrap is especially chosen for its valuable alloy content. Thus, aluminium recycling contributes not only to the sustainable use of aluminium but also, to some extent, its alloying elements, making it both economical and ecological!
    Many of these alloying elements do, however, limit the usability of recycled aluminium in the production of fabricated goods, like extrusion billets or rolling ingots. Therefore, aluminium scrap with an alloy composition corresponding to that of wrought alloys is separated whenever possible.

    Is there an oversupply of high-alloyed scrap?

    Absolutely not! As long as there is a growing demand for aluminium castings worldwide, a shortage of high-alloyed scrap is closer to the truth. The supply situation may become even worse, since the automotive revolution is just in its starting phase in many developing countries.

    Is the recycled aluminium content of products an indicator of recycling efficiency?

    "Recycled content" is a phrase with a certain ecological appeal. But, what does it actually mean in the context of the aluminium industry?
    From a technical point of view, there is no problem to produce a new aluminium product from the same used product. There are no quality differences between a product entirely made of primary metal and a product made of recycled metal.
    If all aluminium applications were grouped together, the average global recycled content (excluding fabricator scrap) would stand at around 33% overall. But, in reality, recycled content varies substantially from one product to another. With the continued growth of the aluminium market and the fact that most aluminium products have a fairly long lifespan (in the case of buildings, potentially more than 100 years), it is not possible to achieve high recycled content in all new aluminium products, simply because the available quantity of end-of-life aluminium falls considerably short of total demand.
    Furthermore, recycled aluminium is used where it is deemed most efficient in both economic and ecological terms. Directing the scrap flow towards designated products in order to obtain high recycled content in those products would inevitably mean lower recycled content in other products. It would also certainly result in inefficiency in the global optimisation of the scrap market, as well as wasting transportation energy. Calls to increase recycled content in specific categories of aluminium products make no ecological sense at all.
    Even though the recycled content of a particular product or product part may range from 0% to 100%, all collected aluminium is recycled . Aluminium that cannot be collected includes that used in powder, paste and for deoxidation purposes as, after use, it loses its metallic properties.

    What are the European sources of aluminium scrap?

    Recycled aluminium is produced from both new and old scrap. New scrap is surplus material that arises during the production, fabrication and manufacture of aluminium products up to the point where they are sold to the final consumer. The production route of new scrap from collection to recycled metal is thus controlled by the aluminium industry. Old scrap is aluminium material that is treated and melted down after an existing aluminium product has been used, discarded and collected. Based on statistics and existing knowledge of the European aluminium scrap flow (excluding internal scrap), approximately 40% of recycled aluminium originates from old scrap, and the rest is new scrap.

    Why does the industry not recycle 100% of all available aluminium?

    The industry continues to recycle all the aluminium collected from end-of-life goods and by-products. However, the collection of aluminium-containing endof- life products from municipal waste streams (e.g. household waste) depends largely on national waste schemes. The amount collected could be increased with the help of appropriate authorities, local communities and heightened awareness by society as a whole. The environmental feasibility of whether to recycle or incinerate flexible packaging waste, such as aluminium laminated to paper and/or plastic layers, which has a very low aluminium content can only be decided case-by-case by comparing the specific alternatives by life cycle assessments, taking specific local circumstances and other aspects of sustainability into consideration. Generally the energy required for the production of packaging is only a small percentage compared to the total energy used to produce and supply the final product.
    If the final product is spoilt due to inadequate packaging material, much more energy is wasted than needed to produce the packaging itself.
    During all industrial processes involving treatment and melting, a certain degree of material loss is inevitable. Aluminium losses during such processes are therefore unavoidable, and this holds true for all other materials. But a recycling rate of almost 100% can be achieved with new scrap, such as aluminium sheets, because the route from collection to melting is entirely in the hands of the aluminium recycling industry.
    Certain applications are not available for recycling as they loose their metallic properties by their very nature. For example, in order to produce one tonne of steel in a basic oxygen furnace, around 1.8 kg of aluminium is needed for deoxidation purposes. Other examples of metal loss include use as aluminium powder or as an additive to metallic lacquers.