Today, recycling of post-consumer aluminium products saves over 90 million tonnes of CO2 and over 100,000 GWh of electrical energy, equivalent to the annual power consumption of the Netherlands.
For most aluminium products, the metal is not actually consumed during the product’s lifetime, but simply used, with the potential to be recycled without any loss of its inherent properties. Therefore, the life cycle of an aluminium product is not the traditional “cradle-to-grave” sequence, but rather a renewable “cradle-to-cradle”.
This property of infinite recyclability has led to a situation where today around 75% of the almost one billion tonnes of aluminium ever produced is still in productive use, some having been through countless loops of its lifecycle.
Through the use of only 5% of the original energy input, this metal can be made available not just once but repeatedly from these material resources for future generations.
The growing global markets for aluminium products are supplied by both primary (around 65%) and recycled (around 35%) metal sources.
In North America and in Europe, a beverage can is produced, filled, distributed, consumed, collected and recycled back into a can within 60 days. The aluminium industry has a long tradition of collecting and recycling used aluminium products and the high economic value of used aluminium packaging is an incentive for continuous improvement in recycling.
The aluminium drinks can is the most recycled beverage container in the world and most aluminium foil applications are fully recyclable as well. Modern separation techniques allow aluminium foil in household waste to be extracted and recycled at a fraction of its original energy cost. If aluminium foil is not collected for recycling but processed in incinerators, the thin, laminated foil material is oxidised and releases energy, which can be recovered. What’s more, the remaining non-oxidised aluminium can be extracted from the bottom as of the incinerator and subsequently recycled.
Improving the overall collection rates of used products is an essential element in the pursuit of sustainable development. Industry continues to recycle, without subsidy, all the aluminium collected from end-of-life products as well as from fabrication and manufacturing process scrap. With a growing number of industry initiatives and the help of appropriate authorities, local communities and society as a whole, the amount of aluminium collected could be increased further.
Aluminium recycling benefits present and future generations by conserving energy and other natural resources. It requires up to 95% less energy to recycle aluminium than to produce primary metal and thereby avoids corresponding emissions, including greenhouse gases.
A recycled drinks can…saves enough energy to run your television for up to three hours, avoids CO2 emissions equivalent to a 1 mile car journey, could be back on the supermarket shelf as another can within 60 days.