Aluminium recycling: how and why to recycle it?

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aluminium recycling

Aluminium has been widely used for many years now as a container for food, drinks, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. Take a look around you and you will notice it everywhere in your day-to-day lives. It is used for cans, jars, coffee capsules, trays, etc. But how and why is it recycled? In this article we’ll look at why aluminium should be recycled, the process of aluminium recycling, and the environmental impact of recycling aluminium cans and other items.

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What is aluminium recycling?

Aluminium is one of the most desirable metals in the world and is used in many industries such as transport, food, electronics and electrical power transmission and construction. It is also very popular to recycle because of its low energy needs and high scrap value.

During the recycling process, aluminium does not degrade because its atomic structure is not altered when melted. It is therefore an economically and environmentally effective metal to recycle. Recycled aluminium requires only 5% of the energy used to make primary aluminium, and can have the same properties as the parent metal. In fact, aluminium can be recycled endlessly without loss of material properties.

What is recycling?Recycling consists of giving a second life to waste after a process of treatment and revaluation of the same.

Aluminium recycling facts

To understand how much the UK population relies on aluminium, here are some key facts about its use and the importance of recycling items such as cans and foil trays.

  • Around 5.9 billion aluminium drinks cans are recycled in the UK every year. That's enough to circle the world almost 18 times if laid end to end;
  • Recycling one tonne of aluminium saves the carbon dioxide emissions of driving nearly 27,000 miles;
  • If all aluminium cans were recycled in the UK, we would need 14 million fewer dustbins;
  • Over 212,000 tonnes of aluminium packaging are put on the market in the UK every year;
  • Used aluminium drink cans can be recycled and back on supermarket shelves as new drink cans in as little as 60 days.

Can aluminium be recycled?Yes! The most common use of aluminium in UK households is drinks cans, foil trays and aerosols. It can also be found in items such as screw caps and closures on bottles, dairy lidding and coffee capsules. All of these can be recycled.

Aluminium recycling process: How is aluminium recycled?

Because aluminium doesn’t lose its atomic structure in the melting process, it can be recycled numerous times and in a lot of cases for the same product again. This is known as closed-loop recycling. The most common way to recycle the metal is to melt it. An example of how aluminium is recycled is by looking at the case of aluminium can recycling. Here is how it works:

how is aluminium recycled
  1. Recycling: You can recycle your cans in various ways. Take them to a can bank such as at your local supermarket, council recycling centre or shopping centre; use the doorstep collections offered by your council; cash from cans, which are schemes around the country, such as Alucan, in which you take part in aluminium can recycling for cash.
  2. Reprocessing: The cans are collected, checked for contamination and baled. The bales of cans are broken up and shredded into small pieces, about the size of a 50p coin. The printed decoration is removed from the cans through a process of blowing hot air onto them - at a temperature of around 500°C. The clean shreds are then melted in a furnace heated to 750°C. The molten metal flows into a deep pit where the casting process takes place. Cooled by direct contact with water, the metal then solidifies and an ingot is formed.
  3. Rolling: The ingots are transported to the rolling mill where they are pre-heated to 600°C and undergo their first ‘hot rolling’. They are then ‘cold rolled’ to the exact thickness required by the can maker.
  4. Can-making: The next stage is to feed the recycled aluminium sheet through a ‘cupping press’ which stamps out thousands of shallow cups, helping to create the can shape. They are then trimmed and washed ready to be printed.
  5. Filling: The cans are cleaned using high-pressure air and water. The air is extracted and at the same time the can is filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) and the liquid contents.
  6. Selling: The final stage of the loop is when the cans are delivered to the retailer ready for you to buy, drink and recycle all over again.

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Aluminium recycling prices in the UK

As mentioned, there are a number of schemes in the country in which you can earn cash for recycling aluminium. Most aluminium recycling schemes for cash will pay around 85p per kilo.

Aluminium scrap value

As with every scrap metal, the value of aluminium changes according to the fluctuations of the global market. This instability can be due to a number of factors, including nationwide supply and demand, as well as your locality - if you live in an area with a heavy industrial and manufacturing economy, for example.

Aluminium scrap is highly sought after and valuable to scrap metal dealers. These organisations should pay per kilogram or by the tonne for a wide variety of products - not only your drinks cans. You can also take cabling, radiators, plates and other aluminium-based alloys.

Data released by the Environment Agency in August revealed 42,243 tonnes of aluminium packaging were collected for recycling in the second quarter of 2021 – an increase of almost 5% compared to the same period in 2020 (40,903 tonnes). So far this year, 84,090 tonnes have been collected in total (an increase of more than 7,000 tonnes compared to January to June 2020).

Why should aluminium be recycled and what are its benefits?

There are many benefits of recycling aluminium both for the environment and the economy. Below are some of the key reasons why you should keep recycling your aluminium cans, tin foil and aluminium trays:

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  1. Recycling aluminium saves energy: Since raw ore requires a huge amount of energy to process into usable aluminium, recycling this metal saves on energy;
  2. Reduce the need for deforestation and mining: When you recycle aluminium, you are actually lowering the need for deforestation and land to be cleared for mining raw ore to refine aluminium. Bauxite is the primary ore that contains a mix of hydrous aluminium oxides necessary to refine aluminium for manufacturing products and goods in various industries;
  3. Reduce your carbon footprint and help tackle global warming: If you recycle aluminium you will reduce your personal carbon footprint. If more people did the same, collectively, we could slow down or even reverse global warming;
  4. Earn some money: Also, you can earn a bit of cash by recycling aluminium to a professional recycling company;
  5. Aluminium can be recycled repeatedly without issues: The ability to recycle aluminium never ends since you can recycle each product made from new and used aluminium. This makes it an extremely sustainable metal;
  6. Keep it out of landfill: Another benefit of recycling aluminium is that you keep it out of landfills where it would take a long time to decompose - estimates suggest it could take as long as 500 years.