Aluminum Can Recycling - An Effective Way To Reuse This Versatile Metal
Aluminum can recycling is used surprisingly often for the correct "aluminium." But we're not here to give you a spelling lesson so we'll join you on this occasion...
Whereas the can that we know so well was developed until the early 1800's aluminium was not used for beverage containers till 1965. But when aluminium and the can met it became a happy and long-lasting marriage.
Its progeny can be counted in the billions. Many billions of cans. Aluminium is valuable and can be easily recycled.
The recycled aluminium is just as good as newly made aluminium which is made from bauxite which is mined in expensive open-cut mines, and must go through various processing stages before it becomes aluminium.
Now, using used aluminium makes aluminum can recycling very attractive as it uses only 5% of the energy that it takes to make new cans. It can be recycled indefinitely as it does not lose its strength in the recycling process.
Its production cost is low, even after taking into account cost of collection, separation and recycling. It should not surprise you therefore that over 30% of aluminium produced in the US derives from recycled materials.
Perhaps it should surprise us that not a greater proportion is recycled!
Of course it is not only drinking cans that are made of aluminium so these cans, when recycled can end up in any number of new configurations, like planes, cars, bicycles, boats, computers, cookware, guttering, wire, fencing and so on.
Environmental benefits of aluminum can recycling
The recycling process emits only about 5% of the carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions that new processing does.
The open-cut mining that is used in this industry can destroy large areas of the natural environment.
How aluminum can recycling works
Cans are often collected in large bins, placed in handy locations where conscientious recylers deposit them;
If ending up in municipal waste they are retrieved from it, by hand or machine;
Any pieces are mechanically and chemically cleaned;Pieces of aluminium are pressed into blocks;
These blocks are heated in a furnace to between 750F/400°C and become molten aluminium;
Any impurities are removed. So are gasses like dissolved hydrogen;
The result is tested for purity. If OK, other metals, like zinc, copper, manganese, silicon, magnesium, are added to required alloy strengths;
The product can then be shipped in ingots, bars, rods or even in molten state for reuse!
And Bob's your uncle!
Does everyone participate in aluminum can recycling?
The answer is "No."
For any sustainable behavior change you need two things: Incentives and barriers.
Incentives to engage in desirable behavior. Barriers from engaging in non-desirable behavior.
Community Based Social Marketing is based on this. For an admirable, and highly practical overview, please check it out here. If a fraction of local authorities applied these approaches we'd be a few steps closer to a sustainable world.
Public awareness campaigns usually do a great job for the PT companies that design them, but they mostly change little of a substantial behavior change.
We are creatures of comfort, so if there is no curb-side aluminium can collection where we live, most will not bother taking their cans to a recycling center. So it goes in with the general trash. And it's harder to recover later.
Of course, behavior comes from the way we are brought up, so families and schools are hotspots for teaching a respectful regard for the environment, how natural cycles work, that we live in a world with limits and that each of us has a responsibility to care.