The eternal container exists

It’s not magic, it’s called recycling. A can of drinks or the aluminum container where a preserve is sold can be turned into a bag of potatoes, the wrapper that covers a chocolate bar or some frying pans. The applications are multiple, but the requirement is unique and irreplaceable: deposit this waste in the yellow container for its correct treatment, so that it becomes raw material. So that what is already used is used over and over again. Recycling, a practice within everyone’s reach and increasingly widespread, as an example of a circular economy.

Some of the materials with which the containers are made are recyclable almost in an unlimited way. Aluminum is one of them. It is melted as many times as necessary and the properties remain unchanged. The beverage producers themselves have measured the circularity of this compound: a citizen places an empty can in the yellow container. The waste is classified and separated in a recycling plant. It is melted in an oven and in 60 days there is another container of soda or beer ready in the supermarket, made with that material and of the same quality.

When recycling it, it must be taken into account that almost everything that is made with aluminum incorporates, either separately, or in alloy form, some more metal to improve its properties so that the product is more ductile or resistant or durable, it depends on the requirements of each industry. This explains why the manufacture of a given aluminum object is easier if it is made from another equal to it. The key lies in separating the different wastes well so that their conversion into raw material is less expensive.

This model is not exclusive, however. The versatility of this element of the periodic table is proven. The Italian company Moneta Recy manufactures pans and pots from aluminum from recycled beverage cans. Its website provides information. Classic saucepan for cooking eggs need 37 cans. A frying pan to sauté vegetables, 24. And so with the rest of the pieces that make up a kitchenware. Alcampo, through its Actuel brand, has created a line of pans also made with recycled cans. Many other companies that produce objects with recycled aluminum obtain it from cans or containers or other waste deposited in the yellow container, but they either do not know it because they cannot measure their traceability, or they do not communicate it.

El ciclo del aluminio a partir del reciclaje de una lata de bebidas.
The aluminum cycle from the recycling of a beverage can. Provided by Beverage can

A correct classification

The 90 % of beverage cans in Spain and Portugal are made with aluminum and the 10 Remaining%, with steel, waiting for the few companies that still use this heavy material to amortize the old machinery, change their production chain and reach the 100%. Well, the lid of these cans, in all cases, is made of aluminum. When these containers arrive at the recycling plant, an electromagnet separates the two waste. From there, separate bullets (lumps of metal) are formed, ready to be reintroduced into the value chain. Between the 45% and the 55% of the aluminum used to manufacture these containers in Europe is recycled, according to Juan Ramón Meléndez, director of Beverage Cans, the association that brings together the six major manufacturers of this product.

The resulting steel has value. After proper recycling, sheet metal for automobiles and other means of transport, metal parts for household appliances or beams and rails for the railroad can be manufactured. Once again, it is essential that the citizen deposit this waste in the yellow container and that the different materials are classified in the separation plant.

Innovation in the separation of aluminum waste

To produce other elements with recycled aluminum such as windows, wheels or the casing of a laptop, it is best to use the waste of these same objects. The manufacturing company Hydro Building System, owner of the Technal brand of windows and other aluminum enclosures, uses a highly advanced separation technique that allows them to discard waste that does not have the corresponding alloy or that is not aluminum, such as screws or screws. plastic elements that serve as thermal insulation. They use scrap from old windows removed in a building renovation or demolition. Your new building elements are manufactured with at least 75% post-consumer waste, that is , objects that have already had a previous use (windows), not from shavings or the waste from cutting a large ingot in a metallurgy.

Una planta de separación de residuos alumínicos de la empresa Hydro Building System.
An aluminum waste separation plant of the company Hydro Building System. Provided by Hydro Building Systems

Ángel Ripoll, Marketing Director at Hydro Building System Spain, sums it up like this : “The objective is that each time people go less to the physical mine and more to the urban mine.” It refers to the junkyards or the demolition companies themselves that market those old perks. And he adds: “Aluminum can be infinitely recycled without losing properties; it is never a residue ”. According to Ripoll, the aluminum industry uses 40% of metal Recycled to make computers, car engines, windows or packaging. This figure does not distinguish whether it is post-consumer (an old window) or pre-consumer (the loss when handling primary aluminum in a metallurgy).

Perfiles de ventanas listos para ser reciclados.
Window profiles ready to be recycled. Provided by Hydro Building Systems

Jon de Olabarria, general secretary of the Spanish Association of Aluminum and Surface Treatments (AEA), reinforces Ripoll’s argument: “The use of aluminum is just over 100 years. But humanity has always been recycling metals; for example, copper from the Neolithic Age. It is easier to melt copper than to go to the mine to look for more ”. The savings in polluting emissions if raw materials are obtained from used beverage cans or old windows is clear: the three experts consulted assure that the energy used is 5% compared to that necessary to obtain primary aluminum, which comes from alumina and this, in turn, from bauxite. Ripoll offers a technical explanation. “To separate primary aluminum from oxygen by electrolysis, temperatures of 2 are required. 000 Celsius degrees. To melt it and recycle it, it is enough with 650 degrees ”. This explains a good part of the difference in energy used in the process. The next step is for this energy, however reduced, to come from renewable sources.

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