How are aluminium cans recycled?

Have you ever wondered what happens to an aluminium beverage can after you put it in a recycling bin? Check out this 6 minute video that will help you understand how the cans are being recycled.

Aluminium cans have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than competing package types. They are lightweight, stackable and strong, allowing brands to package and transport more beverages using less material.

Illustration of the location of the facilities mentioned in the video
Figure 1 - Illustration of the location of the facilities mentioned in the video

This video presents the journey of an aluminium can from the recycler to the can manufacturer.

After being collected and sorted by waste collectors, cans are compressed into bales, each weighing up to 1 metric tonne and containing as many as 65,000 aluminium cans, and then shipped to an aluminium sorting plant.

In the video, cans arrive at the Novelis factory in Warrington, England. The bales of compressed cans are loaded onto a conveyor and fed into a shredder. Then, the shredded scraps go through a series of sorting systems:

  • an optical sorter using infrared sensors remove non-metal contaminants, then
  • a magnet removes ferrous metals, leaving just aluminium.

Then, the aluminium scraps pass through a heating chamber to vaporise lacquers and paints.

The next stage is melting. Clean aluminium chips are sent to furnaces at a temperature of 730°C.

After it was heated under 730°C, the alloy goes to the casting area. Molten metal flows downhill to a holding furnace to form moulds. There, it cools over two and a half hours to form giant aluminium monoliths, called ingots. In the video, each one is ten meters long, weighs 27 tons and is made up of 1.5 million recycled cans. The ingots are then sent to the aluminium processing plant.

In the video, the aluminium processing plant is in Gatersleben, Germany, and operated by Novelis Deutschland. There, aluminium ingots are heated in another furnace to 525°C. This gives the aluminium greater flexibility and strength. Then it passes back and forth through a series of rollers. Each set of rollers thins out the metal until it’s a quarter of a millimetre thick and 10,000 meters long. These massive reels of the aluminium are then sent to a can manufacturer.

In the video, the manufacturer is Ball Packaging, in Milton Keynes, UK. There aluminium sheets undergo reconversion into cans.

As highlighted in the video, aluminium is one of most common elements in the earth crust, but, the extraction of virgin aluminium is extremely energy intensive. As a result, recycling aluminium can save over 90% of energy compared to virgin aluminium. In the video, the Natural Scientist states that the recycling of aluminium save every year, the energy required to power the whole India.

Due to the high demand for aluminium and the fairly efficient recycling industry, recycled cans can become new beverage cans in as little as sixty days.

Keep in mind to recycle drinks cans when away from home – at work, or while travelling. If you can’t find a recycling bin, take it home and recycle it later.

[1] Recycle Now – How are cans recycled?

[2] Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority, Dalton, GA – Recycle & Reuse Articles

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About Zero Waste City

Zero Waste City is a consulting business specialised in waste reduction for commercial and industrial facilities. We help companies to save money by reducing waste and to achieve Zero Waste goals. Our services include:

Our services include:

  • Waste audit (quantifying waste streams and identifying immediate cost saving opportunities)
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