If you’re not going to recycle anything else, recycle your aluminum cans for god sake! A recycled aluminum exceeds all other materials in the amount of GHG emissions saved from the ozone, and overall energy savings versus smelting a new one from virgin bauxite. Not to mention aluminum can be recycled again and again without degradation in quality. Two thirds of the aluminum ever produced is still in existence today.
To understand how recycling works down in the nitty gritty, follow me along the step by step process an Aluminum Can takes from being tossed in the recycle bin all the way to its rebirth!
- Once the can is brought to the material recovery facility (MRF), it is usually sorted out by eddy currents (circular electrical loops). Aluminum is a type of metal called non-ferrous, meaning it doesn’t contain iron, and thus isn’t magnetic.
- After the can is separated out of the recycling stream, it is compacted into a bale. One bale equates to about 35,000 cans.
- The aluminum can bales are shipped to smelters in Midwestern states like Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri. Smelting is the process to which metal is heated past its melting point, removing impurities and returning the metal to a pure, homogeneous form.
- At the smelter, the aluminum can is shredded into small pieces.
- The aluminum is then put into a furnace that heats up to 1350 degrees, turning the material into liquid metal.
- The liquid aluminum is then poured into molds to make aluminum bars called ingots or sows. Ingots and sows are just names for metal that has been cast into a shape suitable for transport and reshaping.
- Many aluminum ingots are rolled into thin sheets that are used to make new aluminum cans. Completing the cycle!
Myth-buster: The Truth About Aluminum Pull Tabs
It has been said that the tabs on aluminum cans are the only part made from pure aluminum. This is false. The can itself is every bit as valuable and recyclable as the tab. You should also keep in mind that the whole can far outweighs the tab, so by recycling the can you’re making a larger environmental impact.