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The economic effects of reduced aluminium can use

  Thursday, 27 January 2022

Many of the food and drink products we buy are packaged in cans made from either aluminium or steel. Both materials can be recycled after we have finished with them to make either new cans or other products.

We’re focusing on aluminium as it’s the most cost-effective material to recycle due to huge energy savings of up to 95%. Recycling aluminium is beneficial in many other ways too, which we explore below.

The history of the aluminium can

In 1795 Napoleon offered a prize of 12,000 francs for a method of preserving food for his armies. Supply lines were long and hungry soldiers was not a good strategy. In 1810 Nicolas Appert, a French confectioner, won the prize after experimenting in preserving food by sterilisation.

But it was an Englishman, Peter Durand, who received a patent from King George III for a tin-plated iron can as a food container. At that time, cans were made of iron and coated with a thin layer of tin.

In the past, because there wasn’t the machinery to make the cans, a craftsmen would work on them, but they could only make up to 60 a day. Today, factories are the norm, with production lines that can churn out over one million cans a day.

Aluminium recycling: the process and the benefits

Scraps left over from the aluminium production process can be melted down and used again and again. This means around 75% of all the aluminium ever made is still in circulation.

Aluminium forms about 8% of the earth’s crust and is mined and extracted from bauxite, which contains the compound alumina. Four tonnes of bauxite will contain around two tonnes of alumina, which can provide around a tonne of valuable aluminium.

As one of the most abundant metals found naturally within the earth, aluminium is a great example of recycling even when you don’t have to. In fact, it makes a great candidate for recycling for lots of reasons:

  • It’s used all over the world, so there is a constant supply of recyclable material.
  • Anything made of aluminium can be recycled repeatedly – not only cans, but aluminium foil, food trays, window frames, and automotive components.
  • The savings are substantial: one standard can made from raw materials uses 20 times more energy than a can made of recycled materials.
  • CO2 reduction can be huge: over 9,000kg of CO2 equivalents are saved by recycling 1,000 kg of aluminium cans compared to sending them to landfill.
  • Recycling aluminium takes 95% less energy than producing it from its raw materials. The recycling process also generates only 5% of the greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Used aluminium drink cans can be recycled and back on supermarket shelves as new ones in as few as 60 days.

The benefits of recycling are substantial too. It’s estimated that overall, manufacturing steel from recycled metal gives average reductions of:

  • 86% in air pollution
  • 40% in water use
  • 76% in water pollution

Reduced aluminium can use and its benefits

Around 70% of all aluminium cans are recycled globally, and every minute an average of 113,200 aluminium cans are recycled. In the UK, around 5.9 billion aluminium drinks cans are recycled each year. However, if an aluminium can goes to landfill, it will stay there for 500 years before it oxidises, so it’s more than worth recycling.

How does metal recycling benefit the economy and the environment?

The process of recycling metals stops the need to extract non-renewable metal ores through mining. As there is only a finite amount of ore on Earth (which is often found in unspoiled landscapes), not having to dig for it is good for the earth both in terms of resources and aesthetics.

Using secondary raw materials through metal recycling minimises the use of natural resources when making metal compounds such as iron ore (to make steel) or alumina and bauxite (to create aluminium).

The UK has a wealth of scrap metal, meaning that the transportation and pollution concerns arising from long-distance boat and rail travel are also reduced by recycling.

Using recycled metals for smelting new raw materials can also massively help to reduce energy use and cut CO2 emissions in production methods.

EU data shows that the following energy savings are already being achieved as a result of using recycled materials:

  • Aluminium – 39% of new materials made using recycled metals, at an energy saving of 95%
  • Copper – 32% recycled materials at a saving of 85%
  • Lead – 74% with an energy saving of 60%
  • Steel – 42% at a saving of between 62 and 74%
  • Zinc – 20% at a saving of 60%

EU data also suggests that by using recycled materials, CO2 emissions are currently being slashed by around 200 million tonnes each year.

Contact ASM to help you recycle

Give ASM Metal Recycling a call to secure the best prices for scrap aluminium. We use the latest digital scales to weigh your metals with absolute accuracy; guaranteeing you the right price, so contact us today!

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