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Aluminium has been recycled since the days it was first commercially produced and today recycled aluminium accounts for about one-third of global aluminium usage world-wide. At the end of its useful life, all aluminium scrap collected is recycled as it guarantees value and it is recycled into new products. Recycling is an essential part of the aluminium industry and makes sense economically, technically and ecologically.
Efficiency of aluminium recycling thus translates into high recycling rates for the various applications. In Europe, aluminium enjoys high recycling rates, e.g. approximately 90-95% for transport and building applications. The collection rate of aluminium beverage cans in Western Europe has more than tripled from 21% (1991) to 64% (2011).
Since the material can be recycled indefinitely without loss of quality, and because of the high intrinsic value, there are strong natural incentives to recycle aluminium products after use. Comprehensive systems for the recovery of used aluminium now exist in all major European countries.
The 2010 (TO BE UPDATED) recycling production in Europe (EU-27, EFTA and Turkey) is 5.2 million tonnes of recycled aluminium. About 40 percent of European aluminium demand is satisfied by recycled material. A large majority of recycled aluminium is used by the automotive sector. The other main markets are engineering, packaging and building.
New and old scrap
Aluminium destined for recycling can be described with two categories: new and old scrap. New scrap is the surplus material that is discarded during the fabrication and manufacturing of aluminium alloys (e.g. the splinters of sheet edge trimmings). Most new scrap reaching the recycling industry comes directly from the manufacturing industry. It is usually of known quality and composition and often uncoated. It can therefore be melted down with little preparation. 100 % of the arising fabrication and manufacturing scrap is remelted by the aluminium industry.
|Old scrap is an aluminium material that is collected after an aluminium containing product has reached the end of its useful life. Such scrap could be e.g. used beverage cans, car cylinder heads, window frames from a demolished building or old electrical conductors.|
Old scrap comes to the recyclers via a very efficient network of metal merchants, collectors, dismantlers and scrap processors who have the technology to separate aluminium from motor vehicles, household appliances, etc. This is often done using heavy equipment such as shredders, normally together with magnetic separators to remove iron, and sink-and-float installations to separate the aluminium from other materials by density.
Processing of scrap
Scrap must be of appropriate quality before it can be melted down. To obtain this level of quality, all adherent materials must be removed and the scrap sorted according to alloy type and content. For example turnings are centrifuged and dried to remove the oil and water that may be present and then magnetically separated from any present iron. Used beverage cans are processed to remove the interior lacquer coating and the outside product display printing inks.
As the final link in the recycling chain, the refiners and remelters contribute significantly to the protection of our environment. It is they who ensure the production of a material that can be reabsorbed into the aluminium life cycle. The refiners then supply the foundries with casting alloys, and the remelters provide the rolling mills and extruders with wrought alloys.
Foundries produce a wide variety of castings which are principally used in the transport sector. More than 70% of castings are used in cars. Examples of castings produced from recycled alloys include cylinder heads of engines, engine blocks, pistons, gearboxes, auxiliary equipment and seats.
Foundries produce a wide variety of castings which are principally used in the transport sector. More than 70% of castings are used in cars. Examples of castings produced from recycled alloys include cylinder heads of engines, engine blocks, pistons, gearboxes, auxiliary equipment and seats
Wrought alloy products such as sheets, foil and extrusion profiles can be found in roofs and curtain walls of buildings, food and pharmaceutical packaging, beverage cans, windows, doors, truck trailers, trains and, increasingly, car bodies.
Since 2003, the European Standard EN 13920 (parts 1-16) on aluminium and aluminium scrap, which covers all scrap types, has been considered the norm for scrap classification. This standard is the result of quality control developments, which have been ongoing for decades.