The collection of aluminium scrap from products at the end of their useful life is driven by market mechanisms and the relatively high value of the scrap relative to collection costs, which explains the high rates of aluminium from building products or overhead cables.
However, we are living in a world of “dematerialisation” and multi-material solutions, where functions can be fulfilled with less and less material: cans get lighter, aluminium foil as a barrier material in packaging gets thinner and thinner, aluminium parts in vehicles, windows, machines, electrical and electronic equipment get smaller and/or more complex. From a sustainability standpoint this is a positive development of doing more with less, but requires additional efforts for the collection and separation of aluminium from end-of-life products.
Societies, governments and communities need to work alongside the industry to create effective collecting systems to ensure the constant improvement of recycling rates in all applications sectors. Once collected, a 2005 study by Delft University of Technology study has shown, the metal losses from recycling processes are usually less than 2%, i.e. the net metal yield is above 98%.
End-of-life recycling performance and recycled metal content are often misunderstood. There are no quality differences between a product entirely made of primary metal and a product made of recycled metal. However, recycled aluminium is used where it is deemed most efficient in economic and ecological terms. Due to the overall limited availability of aluminium scrap, any attempt to increase the recycled content in one particular product would just result in decreasing the recycling content in another. It would also certainly result in inefficiency in the global scrap market, as well as wasting transportation energy. The high market value of aluminium means that, if scrap is available, it will be recycled and not stockpiled.
Global indicators of recycling performance:
Recycled aluminium produced from traded new scrap and old scrap as a percentage of total aluminium (primary and recycled sources) supplied to fabricators.
Recycled aluminium produced from traded new scrap and old scrap as a percentage of aluminium available from new and old scrap sources.
Recycled aluminium produced from old scrap as a percentage of aluminium available from old scrap sources.
Aluminium collected from old scrap as a percentage of aluminium available for collection from old scrap sources.
Recycled aluminium produced from old scrap as a percentage of aluminium collected from old scrap sources.
The recycling performance of the aluminium industry can be described by different indicators, namely the overall and the end-of-life recycling efficiency rate. The latter is split into the end-of-life collection rate and the processing rate.