Aluminum is the second-most used metal after steel, largely because it is so versatile. In the United States, the aluminum industry manufactures about $40 billion in products each year [source: The Aluminum Association]. Aluminum's biggest market traditionally has been the automotive industry. Using aluminum for car parts such as cylinder heads, pistons, radiators and wheel rims makes cars lighter, which reduces fuel consumption and pollution levels. Important product sectors using aluminum include:
• Transportation: In addition to auto parts, motorcycles and airplane parts increasingly are made of aluminum, as are license plates. Sluggish automotive sales hurt the aluminum industry in 2009. Although auto sales were slow, however, the amount of aluminum used in cars is up. As auto manufacturers struggle to meet fuel-efficiency standards, they increasingly turn to lightweight aluminum alternatives for many parts [source: Forbes]. The Audi A8 has an aluminum body and aluminum axles, along with other components.
• Building and construction: Siding, roofing, gutters, window frames, hardware, paint are made from aluminum. More than 2 billion pounds (1.8 billion kilograms) of construction materials were shipped in North America in 2009 for construction [source: The Aluminum Association]. Aluminum materials also were used for farm and highway construction.
• Packaging: This includes aluminum foil and trays, gum and candy wrappers. In 2009, packaging beat out the transportation industry as the top use of aluminum. The product is lightweight and can be impermeable to water or light. Common household aluminum foil that's used for cooking and saving leftovers fits into this category, as do tiny pieces of aluminum foil that keep pills or tablets inside packages for individual use. This category includes food and beverage cans and bottle closures. Most recycled aluminum cans are made back into beverage cans.
• Other uses include electrical products such as light bulbs, power and phone lines. In the health and hygiene industry, aluminum goes into food additives, astringents, antacids and even buffered aspirin. Aluminum is a major component of household cooking products such as pots, pans and utensils. The recreation and sporting goods industry uses aluminum in the manufacture of lawn furniture, baseball bats, golf clubs, tents and many other recognizable products.
Sadly, more than 3.4 million tons of aluminum made its way into the U.S. solid waste stream in 2009 [source: Environmental Protection Agency]. That's despite recycling efforts in cities around the country.
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