Aluminium recycling

Over 80% of drink cans sold in the UK are made from aluminium — that’s nearly 8 billion cans every year! And each one could be recycled over and over again, saving energy, raw materials and waste.

The recycling process

The aluminium recycling process, which involves simply re-melting the metal, means the mining and smelting process can be avoided. Recycling has many benefits over raw material extraction — it:

  • Uses only 5% of the energy needed for the smelting process.
  • Reduces litter.
  • Eases pressure on waste disposal systems, especially landfill.
  • Saves greenhouse gases: using one tonne of recycled aluminium saves 9 tonnes of carbon emissions.

What’s more, as one of the few ‘infinitely recyclable’ materials in the world, aluminium can be recycled again and again and again with no loss of quality whatsoever. In fact, over three quarters of the aluminium ever produced is still in use today.

The recycling process

1. Collection

Aluminium can be collected through council kerbside recycling collections, at can banks at supermarkets and council recycling sites and, in some cases, at cash from can centres, where scrap dealers will pay for empty aluminium cans. Once collected, they are sorted and baled and then taken to a recycling plant.

2. Recycling

The aluminium is then shredded into small pieces about the size of a 50p piece. Any decoration on these pieces is removed by blowing them with hot air at 500°C before they are melted in a furnace at 750°C. Finally, the molten (liquid) metal flows into a mould and is cooled by jets of water, hardening into an ingot. Each ingot weights 27 tonnes and is 15 metres long.

3. Rolling

The ingot is taken to a rolling mill, where it is pre-heated and rolled to the exact specification and thickness required by the can maker.

4. Can making

The sheet is fed through a press, which cuts thousands of shallow cups. The sides of the cups are then rammed through a series of rings to raise the cups to form the can shape. External decoration is then applied and the cans are dried in an oven.

5. Filling and selling

The cans are cleaned using high-pressure air and water and filled with carbon dioxide gas. The liquid then goes in, the can ends are attached and the can is sealed up. Around 2,000 cans can be filled this way every minute, and then they’re ready to go to a retailer and then back to you, the consumer.