life cycle of an aluminum can by GK

The Life Cycle of a Can

Aluminum is one of the most commonly recycled metals in the country. It’s also 100% recyclable: it doesn’t lose any integrity or quality in the process. An incredible 75% of all aluminum that has ever been produced is still in use today.

Before an aluminum can is recycled for reuse, it goes through a long and complex process involving making the metal, manufacturing the can from materials, use by the consumer, after which, it can then be recycled again.

Collecting Resources to Form Aluminum

Brand new aluminum is produced from bauxite ore, which is usually found in Africa, Oceania, and South America. After it is strip-mined, bauxite is chemically processed and turned into alumina, or aluminum oxide. Then, alumina is smelted to produce pure aluminum metal. This aluminum is rolled into thin sheets of metal that can be shaped into new products.

Although aluminum is a durable and efficient recyclable material, energy is still used to form and recycle it. Manufacturing makes up approximately one-quarter of an aluminum can’s overall energy consumption throughout its life. However, since aluminum is infinitely recyclable and won’t lose its properties, it more than pays for the costs, especially when it’s made from recycled cans rather than virgin metal.

Manufacturing Cans

After sheets of aluminum metal arrive at a manufacturing plant, they are used to create new cans. The sheets are fed through a press machine, which punches out the shape. Other machines will process and refine this shape by thinning the walls, forming the bottom, and trimming any excess. Once the cans are cleaned and prepared for commercial use, they can be printed with company brands, logos, and images.

Next, cans are varnished and sprayed with protective coatings. They’re shaped slightly to allow for stacking and storing. Finally, the cans are inspected for imperfections before being packaged for shipment to beverage companies.

Consumer Use and Recycling

Once beverage companies fill and distribute their canned products, they’re available for purchase. Consumers drink their beverages and either throw away or recycle the empty can. Unfortunately, Americans throw away more than $700 million worth of aluminum cans every year.

When they are recycled, aluminum cans are transported to scrap metal facilities, where they’ll be melted down for reuse. The melted form of recycled aluminum will go through the same manufacturing process it initially did. This reuse is called secondary production of raw aluminum, whereas processing new aluminum from bauxite ore is called primary production. Because secondary production can be done over and over thanks to the properties of aluminum, a used can is able to be recycled and ready for consumer use again in as little as 60 days. Furthermore, recycling cans save up to 95% of the necessary energy consumption to create new cans through primary production.

Innovative Recycling Solutions

For recycling facilities, the ability to quickly process aluminum and move it out for meltdown is critical. General Kinematics designs complete recycling systems for material recovery, including aluminum. Our recycling solutions like the FINGER-SCREEN™ Vibratory Screen increase efficiency and reduce costs, boosting overall recovery rates for aluminum and other material recycling. Contact us today to learn more, or to discuss your recycling equipment needs.

6 Responses to “The Life Cycle of a Can”

  1. Avatar
    Gillian Babcock

    My sister has a store and she wants to make sure that the cans are properly disposed and recycled. It was explained here that after the cans are recycled it’s used to create new cans through a press machine. Moreover, it’s recommended to hire professionals when in need of quality aluminum recycling services.

  2. Avatar
    Mindy Jollie

    I’m glad you discussed the process for manufacturing, as well as recycling aluminum cans. My friend was looking into making some extra money. She might take up scrap metal recycling since it can help the environment and help her with money.

  3. Avatar
    Mindy Jollie

    That’s crazy to think that 75 percent of aluminum that has been produced is still being used today! That’s really impressive as far as recycling and manufacturing is concerned. I imagine that the reusability and durability of aluminum is why so many manufacturers prefer it for things like cans and building materials.

  4. Avatar
    Tori Raddison

    It’s so interesting that the machines just punch out the shape of the cans in order to make them. How does the next machine make the straight sheet into a round can? I’m glad I could learn how cans are made because I think it’s fun to learn about how every day things are made.

  5. Avatar
    Zachary Tomlinson

    Thanks for helping me understand what happens to aluminum can I just put in the recycling bin. I’ve been thinking of ways on how to help the environment and what you said about how 75% of all aluminum is being reused surprised me. I find it interesting to learn that they just melt the can into something like they were before they become a can and then reused again.

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