Aluminium recycling almost perpetual
THE boast of the aluminium industry is that it is a circular economy, arguing that most of the metal is used with the potential to be recycled again and again.
Because the atomic structure of aluminium is not altered during smelter, the industry explains, its life cycle is not the traditional cradle- to- grave’’ sequence but a renewable cradle- to- cradle.’’
This attribute has enabled aluminium scrap to hold a high market value because the energy needed to melt it for re- use is only 5 per cent of the power consumed in its primary production. In addition, recycling only emits 5 per cent of the greenhouse gases produced in primary production, and the aluminium business boasts that its use of scrap saves more than 70 million tonnes of emissions worldwide each year.
Since its inception, the industry says, recycling of aluminium scrap has reduced global industrial greenhouse gas emissions by a cumulative billion tonnes. It puts the current global energy saving each year at around 215,000 gigawatt hours, equal to Australia’s total annual electricity consumption.
According to the industry, more than a third of all aluminium currently produced around the world originates from recycled metal, a tripling of output since 1980.
Of an estimated 700 million tonnes of aluminium produced in the world since commercial manufacture began in the 1880s,’’ says the International Aluminium Institute, three quarters is still in productive use.’’
The Australian Aluminium Council says more than 260,000 tonnes of scrap is retrieved here each year — used products and factory production scrap.
Australians recycle about 34,000 tonnes a year of used drink cans — involving collection of some 2.5 billion cans.
A large amount of the scrap collected is exported, winning more than $ 370 million a year in foreign trade, with China the dominant export destination.
The soaring cost of energy is also working in favour of aluminium recycling.
When energy is relatively low- cost it is cheaper for producers to make new aluminium than to find, collect, identify, separate and clean the aluminium parts of discarded products and, in fact, more than half of the aluminium currently recycled comes from factory waste in the production of consumer goods.
With the near- certainty that global energy demand and government commitment to adding carbon taxes to energy prices will push costs — and especially electricity costs — to far higher levels, it is likely that it will become economical to stockpile scrap.