How is aluminium recycled?
People have been recycling aluminium for nearly 100 years and an incredible 75 per cent of the metal ever made is still in use today.
Since recycled aluminium has exactly the same properties as new – but takes just five per cent of the energy to produce – aluminium commands a high value on the secondary, or scrap, market and this drives collection for recycling.
Aluminium can be reprocessed and reformed endlessly, and the metal loses none of its quality during the recycling process.
The metal is extremely versatile and is used in a multitude of different products, ranging from cars to window frames, and from aeroplanes to food packaging. This endless reuse cycle is also known as ‘closed loop’ recycling. For drink cans collected in the UK the closed loop means used cans are reprocessed and remade into more drink cans.
Five stages of the recycling process:
Drink cans, foil trays and aerosols are typically collected from homes or can banks mixed with other food and drink packaging, including steel food tins. Some recycling schemes collect foil separately – check your local council’s website for details of how to recycle at home.
The recyclable materials will be taken to a local waste transfer station or materials recovery facility (MRF) where they are sorted. Metals are separated using magnets, and the aluminium and steel items are compressed into bales.
Bales of aluminium cans are then taken to a reprocessing plant, where they go through four stages – shredding, decoating, melting, and casting. During the final stage, the molten metal is cast into large ingots.
In the UK Novelis operates Europe’s only dedicated aluminium drink can recycling plant, where cans are reprocessed in a ‘closed loop’ to make metal used for the manufacture of more beverage cans . This plant has the capacity to recycle every aluminium drink can sold in the UK for the foreseeable future.
You can see more of the can recycling process on the Think Cans website
Ingots are transported to a rolling mill and rolled out to make sheet aluminium, from which new packaging can be made.
Aluminium sheet is converted into a diverse range of packaging items.