The recycling of aluminium generally produces significant cost savings over the production of new aluminium even when the cost of collection, separation and recycling are taken into account. Over the long term, even larger national savings are made when the reduction in the capital costs associated with landfills; mines and international shipping of raw aluminium are considered.
The environmental benefits of recycling aluminium are also enormous. Only around 5% of the CO2 is produced during the recycling process compared to producing raw aluminium (and an even smaller percentage when considering the complete cycle of mining and transporting the aluminium). Also, open-cut mining is most often used for obtaining aluminium ore, which destroys large sections of the world’s natural land.
One of the reasons why only 31% of scrap aluminium is recycled is that it’s cheaper, for the aluminium producer, to make new aluminium then it is to find, collect, identify, separate, and clean the aluminium parts in old products. Some manufacturers like to paint aluminium solely for aesthetic reasons; this creates problems for recyclers because the paint releases extremely toxic fumes when the aluminium is re-melted. Most of the aluminium that’s recycled comes from pre-consumer factory waste.
Aluminium lasts practically forever, 500 year old aluminium is just as good as aluminium made 50 years ago, because it doesn’t rust or corrode like other metals. Strategic planning may dictate that it’s most economical to stockpile scrap aluminium for future use while energy is still relatively cheap. Whatever the case may be, the global supply of easily accessible scrap aluminium is not enough to meet current demands for aluminium.
- Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the earth’s crust and is the earth’s second most used metal.
- The aluminium drink can is the world’s most recycled packaging container – worldwide over 50% of aluminium cans are recycled.
- Nearly 60% of the aluminium used in the UK has been previously recycled
- Recycling aluminium drink cans saves up to 95% of the energy needed to make aluminium from its raw materials.
- Making one aluminium drink can from raw materials uses the same amount of energy that it takes to recycle 20.
- Recycling 1 kg of aluminium saves 8kg of bauxite, 4kg of chemical products and 14 Kilowatts of electricity.
- The energy saved by recycling 1 aluminium drink can is enough to run a television for three hours.
- In 2000 the UK consumed 5 billion aluminium drinks cans, of which 42% were recycled. This is lower than the European leaders – Switzerland and Finland currently have the highest recycling rate at 91%.
- The average person uses 1.3kg of aluminium cans a year – that’s about 84 cans
- The average household uses 3.2kg of aluminium cans a year – that’s about 208 cans.
- An aluminium drink can contains four different aluminium alloys: the can body, can end, ring pull and the rivet attaching the ring pull.
Steel is also mined from an ore. Iron ore is plentiful but it too is usually combined with oxygen or sometimes carbon or sulphur. The iron ore is stripped in a blast furnace to reduce it to pig iron that can then be used in steel production.
There are currently about 11 million tonnes per annum of iron and steel scrap arisings. About 70% of this scrap is recovered. Of the remainder – 2/3 is land filled.
Facts and Figures
- All steel cans are 100% recyclable. They can be recycled over and over again, to make anything from cars and bicycles to more steel cans, without any loss of quality!
- Steel is the only common metal that will stick to a magnet.
- In the UK, we use 13 billion steel cans every year. Stacked on top of each other, you could make three piles of cans that would reach to the moon.
- Steel is made from one of the earth’s most common natural resources, iron ore, as well as limestone and coal.
- Steel is strong and durable, protecting from water, oxygen and light. These qualities make steel an excellent packaging material for food and drink, and for household, promotional and industrial products.
- Every household uses approximately 600 steel cans a year.
- Steel is the most recycled metal in the UK – and in the world.
- The thinnest part of a steel can wall measures only 0.07mm thick – that’s thinner than a human hair.
- It would take 1087 steel drinks cans stacked end to end to reach the top of the London Eye – or 2818 to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower.
- 70% of all steel packaging is recycled, compared to just over 30% of aluminium packaging.
- Steel cans are becoming lighter. The average weight of a soft drinks can is only 21.4g, compared with 31.2g in 1980.
- Over 3 billion cans are recycled in the UK each year – equivalent to the weight of 18,000 double decker buses.
- All steel cans contain up to 25% recycled steel.
- It’s not just food and drink that come in steel cans. Many paint cans, aerosols, biscuit and sweet tins, and bottle tops are made of steel too.
- Recycling one tonne of steel cans saves 1.5 tonnes of iron ore, 0.5 tonnes of coal and 40% water usage.
- Two-thirds of all cans on supermarket shelves are made of steel.
- Recycling seven steel cans saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 26 hours.
- Steel in Europe contains 54% recycled steel and is 100% recyclable.