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.
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.
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.
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.
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.