Despite being the third most abundant element on the planet, aluminium recycling is a big deal and should not be given a low priority simply because there is plenty more of it lying about. Recycling is not simply about reusing a material so that we do not run out of it; it is about reducing the harmful gasses and emissions that are released during its initial production.

One of the most dangerous gasses that we expose to the atmosphere during aluminium production is Carbon Dioxide (CO2), a colourless gas that is naturally present in the air, but one that only makes up only a very small fraction of our atmosphere. It is considered a greenhouse gas, which means that the levels present in our atmosphere have a very real effect on global warming, which affects our planet’s climate and temperature.

It is because it can have such a profound and long-lasting affect on our environment that we try to limit the atmosphere’s exposure to it. One way to do this would be to not undertake the processes that cause CO2 to be released in the first place, which would be impractical to say the least, but a middle ground is essential; which is where aluminium recycling comes in. By recycling, repurposing and reusing the aluminium that has already been refined in the past we drastically reduce the quantity of new aluminium ore, such as Bauxite, that needs to be refined in the future, there by reducing the harmful gasses released.

Since 1990 recycling aluminium has made a drastic impact on the level of CO2 emissions. In 1990 aluminium recycling prevented around 40 million tonnes of CO2 from being sent out into out atmosphere and by the year 2000 that number had climbed to 58 million. Now, in 2014, that number has made a massive leap to approximately 105 million tones, and it is projected that by 2020 an additional 19 million tones will be being saved; meaning 134 million tonnes of CO2 will be saved annually by aluminium recycling alone.

There are several reasons why recycling has this much of an impact on emissions, but the biggest one is simply as a result of the difference amounts of energy to complete each respective task. The disparity is vast and once broken down into stages it becomes ever so clear as to why.

The first time round there are several stages, all of which consume energy. To start with you have to mine the Bauxite ore, then refine it into alumina (aluminium oxide), before stripping away the oxygen, smelting it and finally casting it into ingots. Roughly 170 gigajoules of energy is required to complete this whole process and produce a tonne of aluminium, with over three quarters being used during the smelting process alone.


A tonne of recycled aluminium on the other hand requires only 10Gj of energy, which is just under 6% of the energy that would have been spent if we did not bother recycling. To give you an idea of the amount of energy required for the process 1 joule is equivalent to 0.2390 calories, a gigajoule is 1,000,000,000 (a thousand million) joules, or 239,000,000 calories.

One of the best things about aluminium is that no matter how many times it is repurposed it can always be recycled again, without any deterioration in its quality. This means that if you recycled an aluminium can after using it when you were 5 it could become part of the building that you get your first post-graduate job in when you are 21, or make up part of the plane that takes you on your honeymoon; or be incorporated into the electrical cables that help power your home. Alternatively it could simply become another can, which is still nice.

Fun Facts!

• Since 1888 over 955,800,000 tones of aluminium has been refined from scratch.• 2.99Gj is supposedly the energy required to fully vaporise a mature human body.• The top ten aluminium producing countries (from lowest to highest) are Norway, Bahrain, Brazil, India, The UAE, Australia, The US, Canada, Russia & China. The UK is 23rd.• Japan is the lowest on the list at 43. It produces only 7 thousand of the 44,100,000 tonnes produced on average per year. China produces 18,000,000


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