How to Recycle Aluminum Cans

An Overview On Recycling Aluminum and Aluminum Cans

It’s a hot summer day and so you pop open a cool can of beer or soda. Ah. The refreshing sensation of chilled beverages is a great way to enjoy the heat without melting into your lawn chair. But your portable beverage habit may be costing the planet a good deal of pain, especially if you’re not properly recycling your aluminum cans.

But aluminum isn’t just a problem for summertime drinks. Aluminum, which is actually a natural mineral called bauxite is usually mined overseas and then shipped to European and North American countries, is used to can food items, make food containers, aluminum foil, building and construction materials, fixtures, and furnishings. Mining bauxite has several important environmental impacts:

  • Human health: A chemical called caustic soda is used to extract alumina from raw bauxite. This chemical can leach into groundwater supplies and there have a negative impact on local human populations living near mining operations.
  • Ecosystem disruption: Most often, natural vegetation and soil is stripped away in mining areas, and though care is taken to replace it, there are always detrimental impacts of such activity for ecosystems.
  • Plant and animal loss: As their natural environment is destroyed, many plants and animals (especially in rain forests) are destroyed. Coral reefs can also be damaged if mined bauxite is spilled in the ocean during transport.

The benefits of recycling aluminum

When aluminum cans (which should not be confused with tin cans, which are made of steel and will stick to magnets) are recycled, they can not only be used to make new aluminum cans, it can be turned in virtually any new aluminum product. And because aluminum can be recycled infinitely without loss of material quality (unlike paper and cardboard which loses integrity every time it is recycled), it is the most valuable recycled material around. Here are some benefits of recycling aluminum:

  • Resource use: Recycling aluminum saves a lot of natural resources. For every ton of aluminum recycled, 40 barrels of oil are saved.[1] Throwing them away on the other hand, is a complete waste. In America, enough aluminum is thrown away every three months to rebuild all of the planes in the commercial air fleet.[2]
  • Energy consumption: Making aluminum from scratch requires incredibly high temperatures (1,220ºF) in energy-intensive processes. Just one recycled aluminum can save enough energy to run an average TV for three hours.[3] That’s because recycling aluminum requires 95% less energy than making it from virgin materials.[4]
  • Landfill space: It takes nature 500 years to break down an aluminum can in a landfill, which represents a huge resource waste.[5] Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 10 cubic yards of landfill space.[6]

Recycling aluminum involves shredding and crushing the cans and other containers and then burning off any labels. The aluminum is then melted and blended with virgin aluminum and poured and pressed into one-inch thick sheets. These are then coiled and sent to manufacturing companies who then use the metal to make new products which then end up your grocer’s shelf. This whole process can take a little as 60 days!

How to recycle aluminum cans

Given the ease with which aluminum is recycled and the financial returns, there are few local municipalities without aluminum recycling programs. In general, where there are local recycling facilities, the process of recycling aluminum is simple for you:

  • Rinse and let cans dry.
  • Remove any labels (if required).
  • Set out with curbside recycling (if available) or drop off at a local aluminum can recycling center.

Where local Bottle Bills (America) and other can deposit schemes are in place, you can often return your beverage cans to a depot where you will receive money in exchange for your waste. Check out our recycling database to see if you can cash in your aluminum cans for cash.






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References

1  Recycling Trivia. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2010, from Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality: http://www.deq.state.ms.us/Mdeq.nsf/page/Recycling_RecyclingTrivia?OpenDocument

2  Picture Show: Waste Management. (2010, July 1). Retrieved July 28, 2010, from Good: http://www.good.is/post/picture-show-waste-management/page:14#slideshow_17247

3  Quick Recycling Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2010, from Urban Impact Recycling Litd: http://www.urbanimpact.com/resources/green-tips/RecyclingFacts.pdf

4  Recycling One Can Saves the Energy Used to Watch the Super Bowl. (2010, February 8). Retrieved July 28, 2010, from The Aluminum Association: http://www.aluminum.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=29640

5  Waste Reduction Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2010, from Clean Nova Scotia: http://www.clean.ns.ca/files/28/wastereductionfacts.pdf

6  (Recycling Trivia)

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