Did you know that of the 24 million tonnes of aluminium produced annually in the UK, 51,000 tonnes becomes packaging for food and drinks?
Unfortunately, some of those food and beverage cans are destined for landfill sites. However, aluminium is a valuable resource. That means there is an emerging global shift toward using more recycled aluminium and steel.
In this article, we’ll discuss the use, versatility, and recyclability of both metals. We’ll explore how aluminium and steel are exceptionally useful (and fully recyclable) materials.
Recycling Aluminium and Steel
Every year, the food and drinks packaging industry uses a large volume of steel and aluminium to make a range of food and drink containers. Luckily, both steel and aluminium have qualities that make them easy to recycle.
A vast range of industries can use steel and aluminium because of their versatility.
When you’ve finished your can of soda, you probably toss it into the recycling bin. After that, your beverage can gets sorted.
Magnetic extraction techniques identify cans made from steel at recycling plants. They’re bailed and compacted and transferred to a plant for continued processing. Then, inside enormous industrial furnaces, the metal melts down at temperatures in the region of 1700°C.
Following that, workers and machines pour the molten metal into moulds to set. Finally, it’s either rolled into sheets or other industrial formats for reuse.
A wide range of industrial applications can use recycled steel slabs. They can become parts for bicycles, vehicles, jewellery, cutlery and pretty much anything else that steel is suitable for!
The majority of electrical appliances in the average home contain a selection of steel components. One of the wonderful things about steel is that it is recyclable over and over again without any reduction in the quality of the material.
The Process to Recycle Aluminium Is a Little Longer
In general, aluminium cans go through a similar process to steel cans. The process begins with an eddy current machine. It separates the cans from other metal materials.
Following that, the machines shred the cans into small pieces, which makes them easier to process. These small fragments of aluminium pass across the inside of a magnetic drum.
The drum is an important part of the process. It ensures that any small fragments of steel that may have accidentally been mixed in are collected from the batch.
A scrap metal baler makes it easier to transport the materials. Once the shredded aluminium is checked for purity, it travels to another section of the recycling plant.
This process blasts the paint off the fragments of aluminium and other substances or coatings using extremely hot air.
The next stage of processing takes the aluminium to an industrial furnace like the one we mentioned before. It’s there that the aluminium pieces heat up to 700°C, causing them to melt.
The hot aluminium is then pumped into moulds and cooled using cold water temperature management.
This final part of the process enables the aluminium to solidify into the bars, sheets, and bricks that are ready for sale.
A key benefit of recycled aluminium is that it can easily be recast straight into almost anything that aluminium is a suitable material for. That includes new drinks cans, motors, power lines and components for consumer electronics.
Reusable, Versatile, and Valuable
Industrial production of aluminium began in the 1880s. Because it is a versatile and reusable material, 75% of the aluminium produced during that time is still in circulation right now.
Stop for a moment to take into account everything we’ve just described. Isn’t it shocking and difficult to believe that aluminium or steel cans could ever end up buried in a landfill site?
In the UK, approximately eight billion beverage cans are sold each year. If all of them were recycled, the value of that amount of metal would represent an enormous boost to the UK economy.
Furthermore, recycling steel and aluminium is beneficial for the environment. We must do all we can to prevent metals from going to landfill, where they will take up space and won’t degrade.
Preserving natural resources is easier when we reuse our existing aluminium than if we make new aluminium.
By recycling both steel and aluminium we can also reduce C02 emissions. Compared with manufacturing new aluminium, recycling aluminium is more efficient. It saves approximately 90 per cent of the energy required.
This is because mining bauxite ore, one of aluminium’s key constituents, is difficult. Turning it into aluminium is both environmentally destructive and requires a large amount of energy.
How Are Businesses Helping With Recyclable Materials?
Businesses that are responsible for the production and recycling of steel are making an effort to boost recycling. They are increasingly working with government organisations to solve the problem.
They are also partnering with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) around the world.
Their goal is to increase the amount of aluminium and steel which is recycled each year. They recognise the amount of steel and aluminium exiting the cycle and ending up in landfill is too high.
It represents an environmental crisis and damages the planet, economy, and metal industry.
Used beverage containers (UBCs) account for a large volume of steel and aluminium that gets wasted. However, aluminium and steel from consumer and industrial electronics, cars, building materials, and other products make their way into landfill sites.
Of all the different items we toss into the recycling bin, steel and aluminium are the most valuable. The aluminium industry spends in the region of $800 million on recycling used beverage containers.
The Route to Recycling
During World War II, families were encouraged to save aluminium foil because of how valuable and recyclable it was. They also collected steel and iron during this period to aid in the war effort.
Even earlier, the song Any Old Iron, a British music hall standard, was written in the early 1900s. It was about the inherent recyclable nature of commonly used metals. The song made a joke about an inherited pocket watch.
The watch was not made from valuable gold or silver but from common materials. The song’s chorus jokes that the pocket watch can be (and perhaps should be) readily recycled.
Today, most aluminium gets recycled through local council recycling programs. Everything from cans to cooking pans can be melted down and reused in these programs.
So, the notion of recycling metals like aluminium and steel is certainly not new. But, the scale in which it is used for single-use, food and beverage packaging is unprecedented.
What does all of this mean? It’s essential to make a concerted effort to keep cans and other items out of landfill.
Steel and Aluminium May Save the Ocean
Another reason people are shouting about steel and aluminium recycling is that it might be a solution to the plastic problem.
Every year a large number of plastic bottles from beverages (particularly water bottles) end up in the ocean.
Hollywood movie star Jason Momoa, who is famous for playing the superhero Aquaman, even launched a campaign to try to draw attention to the issue. He released an alternative to water in a plastic bottle named Mananalu that’s sold in aluminium cans.
Momoa is a strong proponent of using aluminium packaging. That’s because it is infinitely recyclable, unlike plastic.
Coca-Cola and PepsiCo also announced product launches for water packaged in aluminium containers. So, they’re also trying to reduce plastic waste.
Silicon Valley has also taken note of the emerging trend towards using aluminium and steel from recycled sources. Tech firms easily recognise the benefits of it from a financial, ecological, and functional perspective.
Apple was lauded for manufacturing products that feature recycled components. The components are made from 100% recycled aluminium. Apple also manufactures MacBook enclosures out of recycled aluminium and other recycled materials.
As we explained earlier, most of the aluminium which was first created in the 1880s is still in circulation. So, that means your iPad or Apple Watch could contain components from that original aluminium industry boom!
Quite incredible, isn’t it?
Recycled Steel and Aluminium Is Eco-Friendly
To summarise, aluminium and steel are not perfect solutions to the plastic problem. But they do appear to be better alternatives for the ocean. Both recyclable materials are also great commodities to recycle from a financial perspective.
Steel and aluminium are infinitely recyclable, without any degradation in quality. They are also versatile. They have a wide range of practical applications and are inside the computer or smart device you are reading this on right now.
If you want to learn more about recycling, keep reading our news pages. In our news section, you can discover more about recycling paper, aluminium, steel and other materials! Explore explanations of industrial recycling techniques and their benefits.
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