Aluminum Sector Snapshot Shows Continued Environmental Gains for U.S. Industry
A new industry sector snapshot report released today by the Aluminum Association shows positive environmental impact trendlines for the U.S. aluminum industry on virtually every measure over the past 25 years. The U.S. Aluminum Industry Sector Snapshot report focuses on seven key environmental issue areas –air, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, land management, water, waste and aluminum scrap usage. In nearly every area, the U.S. aluminum industry has reduced its impact significantly since the 1990s. Positive environmental trends are attributable to both performance improvements by the U.S. industry and the transition from an aluminum supply heavily reliant on primary metal to one that includes significantly more recycled material.
A graphic summary of the full report is available here.
“The U.S. aluminum industry has made considerable strides reducing its environmental impact since the 1990s,” said Tom Dobbins, president & CEO of the Aluminum Association. “Notably, aluminum producers have done so while demand for the metal has grown by more than 25 percent domestically. Aluminum is incredibly sustainable in the use phase – making cars and trucks more energy efficient, buildings greener and packaging more recyclable. But the industry is also firmly committed to doing what it can on the production side to reduce its impact.”
Data in the report comes from public reporting by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is modelled after the EPA’s own “Smart Sector” snapshots. As with the sector snapshots, the baseline years of comparison vary across different environmental metrics. The association’s report selected baseline years to align as closely as possible with other industry snapshots and according to the oldest available data for the given metric.
The information focuses exclusively on U.S. facilities involved in the production of alumina as well as the production and recycling of aluminum and its semi-fabricated products. Any foreign production that feeds into U.S. aluminum supply chains is not reflected in the data, the environmental impact of imported material is not reflected.
Some key milestones outlined in the Aluminum Sector Snapshot include:
- Air: Total air emissions reported to the EPA for the aluminum sector decreased by 65 percent between 1996 and 2019.
- Energy: Energy usage in the sector dropped 55 percent between 1998 and 2018.
- GHG: Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions declined by nearly 60 percent between 2005 and 2018.
- Land: Chemicals released to land are down more than 60 percent since peaks in the mid-2000s though remain slightly elevated from the mid-1990s.
- Waste: Hazardous waste generation dropped fully 93 percent between 2001 and 2019.
- Water: Listed chemicals discharged to surface water fell 84 percent from 1996 to 2019.
- Aluminum Scrap: Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturers increased their use of recycled aluminum scrap by more than 25 percent between 1993 and 2018.
- Production profile: Aluminum produced in North America is among the cleanest in the world thanks to a heavy reliance on renewable hydropower electricity generation. Over the past 40 years, the industry has cut the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions from primary production by more than half while doubling the amount of aluminum collected for recycling.
- New primary production technology: Several major aluminum companies are working to revolutionize primary aluminum production using inert anode technology, which eliminates all direct greenhouse gas emissions in primary production.
- Closed-loop recycling: Firms across industry continually work to increase aluminum recycling in manufacturing, entering into partnerships to recover and recycle as much aluminum as possible to use in new production.
- Facility improvements: Facilities have switched to more environmentally friendly lubricants and rolling oils, installed cleaner burner technologies that use less energy in furnaces, replaced older inefficient process equipment with newer technology and upgraded air and water control systems.
- Recycling technology: Aluminum recyclers have reduced aluminum loss and solid waste generation using new technologies to extract more metal from dross and salt cake, residues of recycling processes.
- Research & reporting: Later this year, the Aluminum Association will release a new life cycle assessment report (last updated in 2014) tracking the environmental impact of producing a unit of aluminum product in North America in several different markets. This is part of a suite of sustainability research and reporting the association produces on an ongoing basis in other markets including packaging, automotive and building & construction.
- Policy advocacy: The Aluminum Association advocates for policies including well-designed container deposit laws, recycling infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and advanced manufacturing research and other policies to ensure sustainable growth for U.S. aluminum.