Materials Science

What is the recycling process for aluminum?
Answered by Science Channel
  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Aluminum is recycled mostly from beverage cans, auto parts and scraps left over from the manufacture of aluminum products. Time for a return to market of recycled aluminum goods can be relatively swift: It typically takes just 60 days for a recycled beverage can to reappear on store shelves.

    The aluminum recycling process is fairly straightforward in its major steps. Aluminum can recycling, for example, is a closed-loop process, which means the new product at the end of the recycling process is the same as the source product. It goes like this:

    1. Used aluminum beer and soda cans are taken to a reclamation plant.
    2. The cans are shredded into small pieces and fed into a furnace.
    3. The molten metal from the furnace is cooled and molded into rectangular ingots.
    4. The ingots are flattened into thin sheets, which are then used to make new cans.

    This whole idea of aluminum reincarnation has been around for awhile now. The first large-scale aluminum can recycling program began all the way back in 1968. It's been quite a success over the intervening years, too. Of the 100 billion cans produced every year in the U.S., about two-thirds, or 66 billion cans, are recycled [source: Alcoa].

    There's also a nice bit of energy savings from aluminum recycling as well. Recycling results in a savings of 95 percent of the energy required to extract the metal from the ore and process it for commercial use [source: Wastecare]. This helps, because it typically requires 7,000 BTUs of energy to make one beverage can. Part of the reason for the success we have achieved in recycling aluminum is because it can be recycled multiple times without any loss in quality. Just think: That soda you drank at a friend's barbecue could end up in your refrigerator just two months later. It's statistically improbable, sure, but that's not to say it couldn't happen anyway.

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