Today the most commonly recycled item is the simple aluminium drinks can and 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in circulation thanks to our recycling efforts. There are collection points for them in every town that are easily accessible and are maintained and emptied regularly. For those thinkng about going green, recycling is the ideal first step as the benefits can be seen quite quickly. Aluminium cans and tins can be recycled today and back on shelves in circulation in six weeks. This is all thanks to the streamlined methods currently in place in our recycling plants.
Drink Cans Are Sustainable
Over two billion aluminium cans are made every year worldwide and it takes more energy to produce aluminium than any other metal. Creating aluminium from recycled cans requires only 5% of the energy needed to make aluminium from new raw materials.
Thankfully when it comes to our drinks cans we recycle more than most with over 70% of cans sold in Ireland in 2017 being collected for recycling according to Repak. This was a huge increase of over 50% on the previous year. In the United States only 50% of aluminium cans are recycled at the time of writing. Figures like this can really drive home the difference every recycled can can make. Recycling one aluminium can saves the same amount of energy required to keep a 60W light bulb on for 24 hours compared to manufacturing the same can from scratch.
A lot of items are recycled using a process that reduces the quality of the material over time. This is called downcycling, a process wherein the value or usefulness of the materials being recycled decrease every time until they are useless. This is not the case with aluminium cans as they can be recycled an unlimited number of times without losing quality or value. This makes them among the most valuable of recyclable materials currently used alongside glass bottles and other metals.
Drinks cans are made out of two different kinds of aluminium. The base and walls of the can are made from the same thin and flexible kind, while the lid part has to be made from a stronger, thicker type. This is achieved by adding more magnesium and less manganese to the aluminium used for the rest of the can. The base is indented to help the can withstand the pressure of it’s contents.
Life cycle of The Aluminium Can
I simplified quite a bit here, but this entire process takes only six weeks. A person buys a canned drink in the shop and brings it home, after drinking it they put it in their recycling. When this is collected it is taken to a treatment centre where it is sorted and washed before getting processed. Next the cans are melted together en masse, this also removes any missed contents, coating, paint, ink, or labels. The molten aluminium is then made into large blocks which are then sent to a mill or factory where they are reprocessed back into cans. Before the lid is added, the can is printed with the label and the liquid is poured in. The cans are packaged and sent out to be sold.