Alcoa Inc., one of the world’s top aluminum producers announced last week that it has set a goal to increase the U.S. beverage can recycling rate from 58% to 75% by 2015 and the global recycling rate from 73% to 90% by 2030. Alcoa is working with customers in all of its major markets to bring recyclable material back for use as a secondary raw material feedstock. The company’s initiative will hopefully spark other aluminum and metal manufacturers and distributers to make similar steps to help reach the increased recycling rate goals. Recycling these materials, rather than throwing them in the trash to be landfilled and making new, results in increased energy and environmental savings.
Recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the amount of energy needed to make new aluminum material from bauxite. In addition, recycling aluminum produces approximately 5% of the amount of carbon dioxide produced from creating raw material. Used beverage containers make up the majority of aluminum scrap, but other sources include aircraft, automobiles, bicycles, boats, computers, cookware, siding, gutters and wires. Aluminum can simply be re-melted and formed into new products, and the majority of recycled aluminum is formed back into aluminum cans. Currently, around 31% of all aluminum on the U.S. market comes from recycled scrap.
When transporting a large amount of cans or other metal materials, companies will often bale it in order to reduce storage and transportation costs. Balers compact large quantities of recyclable materials down to small, compressed cubes. This makes the materials easier to handle, transport and store than if they were handled as loose waste. There are two types of balers, vertical and horizontal. The biggest difference between the two is the way they compress the waste. As their name indicates, vertical balers compact material from above, while horizontal balers compact material from side to side.
When condensing cans and other metal containers, using a can flattener is more efficient than just throwing the product into a standard baler because can flatteners produce highly compacted biscuits that are denser than standard baling. When bailing or condensing a product, the goal is for the final product to take up as little space as possible. This means the most efficient and cost effective condenser is going to be the one that produces the densest and most compacted bale or biscuit.
When cans are collected with residential recycling, they are received at a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) along with other recyclable and non-recyclable materials. They are diverted from the municipal waste stream usually through use of an eddy current separator. Eddy current separators use a magnetic rotor along with forces of alternating polarity spinning quickly inside of a conveyor belt driven non-conductive drum to separate non-ferrous metals from ferrous metals. The external drum rotates at the speed of the belt, acting as the head pulley, while the internal rotor operates at a higher speed than the drum. These combined forces create a strong repelling force, inducting eddy currents. This separator collects the ferrous metals that stick to the magnet and rejects the non-ferrous metals as the alternating magnetic fields throw them out of the product flow.
The cans are then shredded down into small pieces so that they take up less volume and to prepare them to be melted down and molded into new material. Because the recycling process does not damage the metal’s structure, aluminum can be recycled infinitely and be used to produce new aluminum products over and over again.