The economic post-pandemic recovery has had an impact on the metals market as well, that has seen a rising demand in aluminum from different industry sectors. As you know, the recovery has also led to an energy crisis that has taken a toll on the prices of pretty much every industry, that of the metals – aluminum included. Furthermore, China’s decision to curb carbon emissions from aluminum production combined with the military coup in Guinea, that is one of China’s major suppliers of aluminum oxide, have also helped inflate the price of aluminum as never before. On the other hand, aluminum is one of the most recyclable materials on earth, as it can be recycled indefinitely, without losing any of its properties. So, what would happen if more recycled aluminum would return into the economy and who is leading, for now, the aluminum recycling market?

Helping in getting closer into reaching net zero emissions by 2050, the first advantage of more recycled aluminum in the market

More aluminum collected, sorted, and returned into the economy would help reduce CO2 significantly confronted with emissions from producing new or primary aluminum that is highly energy-intensive.

According to the International Aluminum Institute, recycling aluminum requires up to “95% less energy” than producing primary metal which takes around 14 megawatt-hours of power per tonne.

While the British Geological Survey states that from all the metals mined in 2019 aluminum came second after iron with a total of 62.9M tons of all the metals mined, there is data confirming that this light nonferrous metal has the highest emissions per dollar intensity of any other metal: 10.2kg C02/$ versus steel at 5.3kg and zinc at 1.9kg.

Thus, we can easily imagine the waste of energy and natural resources on one hand and generated pollution, on the other hand, to produce this metal from bauxite ore. As it takes a complex process to generate it: the mined bauxite that is a sort of clay needs to be washed, ground, then the aluminum is extracted from the bauxite or refined and finally processed and turned into various products.

On the flip side, there’s still so much aluminum that ends up in landfills every year, meaning environmental destruction and pollution, as it takes hundreds of years for this material to decompose, thus we’re back to why we need to recycle more.

More aluminum, less plastics

First, let’s see some of the science-based data on the two materials. Data from Science Advances in 2017 states that as of 2015, only 9% of the plastic waste out of 6300 Mt waste generated had been recycled, while 12 % was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or natural environment. In contrast, the International Aluminum Institute says that out of the aluminum ever produced, 75% is still in use today. And that needs no more explanations to say that transitioning from plastic to aluminum is good business for consumers, companies, and the planet as well.

Second, you might have noticed that some of the biggest players in the beverage or tech industry had laid out their plans to use more recycled materials in their packaging, including aluminum (know that according to data 70% of aluminum drinking cans is recycled). Apple, for example, also has a plan to make every product carbon neutral by 2030 and more recycled aluminum in Apple products is part of it. Some of their devices already use 100% recycled aluminum in the enclosures. Moreover, the tech giant in collaboration with aluminum suppliers is working to develop a direct carbon-free aluminum smelting process. That could be a game-changer for the entire industry.

Thus, there seems to be a shift towards using more recycled aluminum across industries, but it remains to be seen how many of these companies will succeed in doing so, at what percentage from their entire production, and at what cost.

Who is leading the aluminum recycling market?

Europe has the highest Recycling Efficiency Rate (RER) in the world, recycling 81% of the aluminum scrap potentially available in the region. The Recycling Efficiency Rate says the International Aluminum Institute estimates the amount of recycled aluminum produced annually from new scrap and old scrap.

And at European level, Italy seems to be among the best in class when it comes to aluminum recycling coming from packaging, as in 2020 managed to recover 68,7% of the generated packaging waste in the market, data confirmed by CIAL (CIAL – Consorzio Nazionale per il Recupero e il Riciclo degli Imballaggi in Alluminio).

Can we recycle more aluminum? 

We should recycle more aluminum, produce less primary metal, as it is more environmentally friendly, and it costs less than producing new one. But recycling rates could be higher and bring more value into the world economies only if consumers do properly consume and dispose of waste aluminum if collection and sorting of aluminum improve if governments and manufacturing companies would be more aware of the fact that recycled aluminum is a valuable resource in mitigating climate change if less aluminum ends up in landfills if more investments in recycling plants are done.

In Ecostar we’ve designed screening solutions and specific technologies to best recover ferrous and nonferrous metals like aluminum. Our screening systems increase the value of the output material as they can screen any type of metal in homogeneous fractions and accurately separate it from inert materials. With a production capacity of up to 50 t/h, both our stationary and mobile solutions can screen the aluminum in multiple fractions of 20, 30, 50, or 100mm. If interested to know more, leave a message, we will be happy to provide you with all the necessary information.