Life cycle performance is assuming increased importance. In aluminium, the real environmental benefit is in the recovery of the metal through recycling and looking towards the future.
Once produced, aluminium offers the clear ‘cradle to cradle’ advantage that it can be repeatedly and efficiently recycled without any loss of quality. It is considered, in this sense, the ‘greenest’ of metals, being 100% recyclable. Landfill space is saved and the effects of this practice reduced by the production of aluminium from scrap.
When aluminium products reach the end of their useable life they can be transformed, by recycling, into new forms using only a fraction, about 5%, of the energy and emissions originally required in their initial production. Raw materials are therefore preserved and considerable energy savings made.
Over the past thirty years the importance of aluminium recycling has been underlined by a tripling in its output. Recycling aluminium drinks cans is an important material source. Domestic supplies of scrap account for about 40% of the aluminium recovered from recycled sources. It is the industry’s ambition to recycle all sources of aluminium scrap.
There is a growing recognition that this feature of recyclability results in the increasing reserves of aluminium stock acting much like a reserve of valuable stored energy, that can be repeatedlyused over time. Manufactured aluminium products can therefore be endlessly and economically recycled to produce new products. End of life (EOL) collection ratios are high for the building and construction industry. Significant aluminium recycling rates of around 85% are being achieved within this market.
The virtuous expanding circle of aluminium recycling represents an ever increasing proportion (currently over 35%) of total aluminium production. This can be viewed as a gilt-edged energy investment for the future.
Compared with the production of primary aluminium, recycling produces only about 5% of CO2 emissions. Recycling one kilogram of aluminium saves over 7 kilograms of bauxite, 4 kilograms of chemicals and 13 kilowatt hours of electricity.