So recycled aluminium is trending. Apple’s announcement that they will be using 100% recycled aluminium in their iPads and Apple Watches is a reflection of a greater movement away from manufacturing metal alloys for new products. Actor Jason Momoa has released a line of canned water made from recyclable aluminium. But this vogue isn’t exactly new right? So what’s all the fuss about and is it really as sustainable as they say?
History and Production of Aluminium
Aluminium has been around a while and the process for making stuff out of it was developed way back in the 19th century. But this process was really expensive. So expensive that the alloy had a similar value to silver or gold. As in, Napoleon had some cutlery made from it to use on special occasions – very nice.
And it turns out the process is still expensive. Making new aluminium has a high manufacturing cost but also comes with a steep environmental one as well. First Bauxite ore must be mined from the earth. Then it must go through the Bayer process, an energy intensive technique to create aluminium oxide. Then the Hall- Herout process which smelts the oxide using electric currents and creates metallic aluminium. Making aluminium from scratch leaves us with some pretty serious waste byproducts too such as red mud and greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and perfluorocarbons.
In the 1950s the Adolph Coors Company (think American Coors beers) first made the switch to aluminium cans which left the beer tasting better than the old steel cans and couldn’t be recycled – not to mention keeping your beer cooler for longer!
While aluminium could be reused and recycled it wasn’t until the1990s that the first actual dedicated recycling plant was established.
Aluminium is already widespread through many industries. Construction has made good use of hollow tube, RHS, Qubelok and all manner of mill finished Capral aluminium products found at any aluminium suppliers near you (ask us). Its lightweight and durability has defined scaffolding systems around the world. The Food and Beverage industry has pioneered aluminium use with foil wrapping, cans, cookware, drink bottles and metal drinking straws. And the Transport sector has made particular use of aluminium’s lightweight and ease of workability to enhance commercial airplanes, fast passenger trains and more energy efficient cars.
Recycle Process vs Manufacture
The recycling process of aluminium is drastically different to its manufacture. It requires a staggering 95% less energy than during primary development from bauxite ore.
Another little known fact is that aluminium can be recycled indefinitely – on and on, forever and ever, without end. In fact, aluminium is the most recycled material on the planet! We’ve heard the scary data on plastic recyclability – 91% of plastics ever made is NOT recycled (yikes!) – so it is easy to see why Aquaman is thinking it is better to can water than to bottle it.
But aluminium, or any other material for that matter, doesn’t just recycle itself. The great sustainability potential of the metal alloy is simply up to the user. Creating new products made from pre existing materials is certainly a way toward decreasing industrial waste. And, in the case of recycling aluminium, it certainly makes more economic sense for companies too. But ultimately, the future of our planet is dependent on changing our collective mindset and deciding to find new life in resources that have already been taken from the planet.
Here at Metal by the Metre, we don’t claim to be environmentalists but we sure do have a wealth of technical knowledge when it comes to the world of industrial metals and fasteners. Visit our friendly staff for more information on aluminium products.