Aluminum Recycling

Quick Read

Businesses across the United States are furthering their competitive advantage through the use of aluminum—a 100 percent recyclable and sustainable metal. Aluminum’s sustainability is at the forefront of creating competitive business advantages while also providing product development advantages that win business and create jobs.

Take-Away Facts

  • The profitable economics of sustainability
    Aluminum is one of the only materials in the consumer and industrial waste stream that more than pays for its own recycling. This recycling process propels business activity rapidly. Aluminum cans return from the recycling bin to the store shelf in as few as 60 days.
  • Sustainability increases jobs
    The sustainable nature of aluminum is increasing the size and economic impact of the entire industry. More than 155,000 workers are directly employed in the industry and for each aluminum industry job, an additional 3.3 employment positions are created elsewhere.
  • Achieving energy efficiency standards
    The Sacramento, California, Capital Area East End Building was the first LEED-certified building in California. This certification was awarded in part because of a high-performance, non-reflective aluminum curtain wall that cools the building naturally.
  • A hundred years of aluminum’s sustainable success
    Aluminum first entered the mainstream U.S. product market in the early 1900s, through applications in the foil and packaging industry. Since that start, nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced in the United States is still in use.

The Business of Sustainability

Creating competitive advantages

Aluminum creates competitive advantages for the companies that use the world’s most sustainable metal. For example, in the packaging industry, aluminum cans attract consumer goodwill. Their ease of use, safety, convenience, light weight, and durability make them a favorite in homes across the country.  Curbside and community recycling programs highlight the metal’s value in the recycling bin. Aluminum cans provide a printable surface that effectively accepts coatings and paint—a key advantage for brand identification and attractiveness of packaging. The benefits of aluminum work in both directions—both consumers and industry win.

Vital to industry success

Recycling is a core business operation of the aluminum industry. In the United States and Canada, the industry recycles more than 5 million tons of aluminum each year, most of which goes back directly into the North American supply. Because producing recycled aluminum is 92 percent more energy efficient than making new aluminum, the practice is both a business and environmental win for the industry. More can be done. Believe it or not, a 10 percent increase in aluminum end-of-life recycling rates decreases industry greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent.

Achieving corporate goals for sustainability

Companies across the country are incorporating environmental and sustainability goals into their business mission statements. Apple has pioneered the use of aluminum to create a sustainable and environmentally responsible manufacturing process. In 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs released a letter recommending changes to the company’s environmental policy to achieve “a greener Apple.” Jobs specifically encouraged the company’s adoption of aircraft-grade aluminum to improve recycling uptake. At that time, Jobs forecasted Apple would increase recycling effectiveness from 9 percent in 2006 to 28 percent in 2010. This goal was surpassed. The company achieved a 66 percent recycling rate in 2009 and has set a goal of 70 percent for 2015.

Heading in the Right Direction

The increased use of recycled aluminum is a significant trend in the industry. Nearly 40 percent of the North American aluminum supply is now created through secondary production (recycling processes). This figure is up from approximately 30 percent in the early 1990s. The environmental and economic win is profound: Production of aluminum from recycled metal saves more than 90 percent of the energy that would otherwise be required by primary production.

Recycling aluminum saves more than 90 percent of the energy needed to make new aluminum.

Recycling aluminum saves more than 90 percent of the energy that would be needed to create a comparable amount of the metal from raw materials. Tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can’s volume of gasoline. Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced is still in use today.

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