Aluminum happens to be the metal of choice for food storage, but it is quite expensive. Fortunately, all metals, including aluminum, are perfect candidates for recycling. Aluminum cans and foil are some of the materials most commonly recycled by households and commercial establishments alike. Although both are made of aluminum, there are slight differences in their recycling methods.
What are Aluminum Cans and Foil Used for?
Aluminum, the metal used in both aluminum cans and foil, is made from a mineral called bauxite. Aluminum cans are primarily used as containers for ready-to-consume food items like oil, cereals and other edible goods. Aluminum foil, with its ability to bend and fold easily into any shape, is also used to store food. Unlike cans, foil is used when the food being stored is not in a standard shape. For instance, foil pieces are used to wrap chocolates.
The property that makes aluminum such an ideal candidate for food storage is its ability to act as a barrier between food and light as well as oxygen. This is why food can be preserved even when there is no refrigeration available. Of course, aluminum foil is widely used to pack leftover food in the refrigerator, something that almost everybody does!
Why Recycle Aluminum?
More than 100 billion aluminum cans are sold each year in the United States, but only less than 50% are recycled. This adds up to 1.5 million tons of aluminum cans waste worldwide every year. According to the Container Recycling Institute, aluminum cans represent only 1.4% of a ton of garbage by weight, but they account for 14.1% of the greenhouse gas impacts associated with replacing an average ton of garbage with new products made from virgin materials.
Takeaway Aluminum Recycling Facts
- The aluminum can is 100% recyclable and can be recycled indefinitely.
- According to the U.S. EPA, aluminum recycling reduces the amount ending up in landfills by almost 55%.
- Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 10 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling aluminum saves 90% to 95% of the energy needed to make aluminum from bauxite ore.
- With the energy used to make one new aluminum can from bauxite ore, you can make 20 recycled aluminum cans.
- Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy that is required to make cans from virgin bauxite ore.
- Recycling one pound of aluminum (33 cans) saves about 7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity.
- Americans throw away more than $700 million worth of aluminum cans every year.
- The aluminum industry spends more than $800 million dollars a year on recycled cans.
- Countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Germany, and Finland all recycle more than 90% of all aluminum beverage containers.
- The yearly amount of recycled aluminum cans easily exceeds 60 billion cans.
- Recycling 1 kg of aluminum saves up to 14 kWh of electricity, 4 kg of chemical products, and 6 kg of bauxite.
- Recycling 40 aluminum cans provide the energy savings equivalent to one gallon of gasoline.
- Recycling 1 aluminum can is equal to keeping a 100-watt light bulb burning for 4 hours, listening to a full album on an iPod, or watching television for 3 hours.
- Recycled cans can be made into appliances, airplanes, furniture, and more.
The Recycling Process for Aluminum Cans & Foil
Thanks to their similar properties, cans and foil made of aluminum are recycled in a similar fashion. There are some slight modifications, which are highlighted below.
Recycling Aluminum Cans – Aluminum can recycling is a straightforward process since aluminum has a non-sticky surface which does not absorb anything.
Aluminum Cans: Should You Crush Them or Not?
Recyclers have always recommended crushing the aluminum cans. But times have changed, and crushing cans isn’t really beneficial. If you are using a vending machine for a soda or beverage, this might be of help:
- If you sort the cans in separate bins, you can crush the cans.
- If all your recycling is tossed away into one bin, don’t crush the cans. Keeping the cans intact may take up more space, but it will be easier and better for the recycling center to identify and distinguish what they are sorting.
How Are Cans Recycled?
Check this video to see how aluminum can recycling takes place.
Here Are The Steps Involved In The Recycling Process For Aluminum Cans:
- Rinse the cans. This has to be done so that any food products that were stored in them are washed away, sort of like washing dishes after dinner.
- Remove all the labels that are still attached to the can. Some recycling centers may not want you to do this but it’s better to do it anyway. Rinsing usually removes the labels automatically.
- Drop the cans off at the local recycling center where they will be processed.
Recycling Aluminum Foil
Unlike cans, recycling aluminum foil is tricky since cans maintain a rigid cylindrical or square shape which makes them easy to rinse. Foil pieces though are almost like paper sheets. It’s time to answer the question, can you recycle aluminum foil?
Yes you can, but once foil has been used it will have food particles stuck on it and may become oddly shaped or crumpled. Recycling centers will often not accept used foil since it contaminates existing aluminum batches that have come in for recycling.
Now That The Question “Is Aluminum Foil Recyclable?” Has Been Answered, Here Are The Steps For Recycling:
- Contact the local recycling company and enquire if they accept aluminum foil. This is essential because some centers don’t take it. If the center accepts foil, then check with them about how clean the foil has to be.
- Clean the foil to prepare for it to be sent to the center. One way to do this is to wipe the foil clean. There will be times when the food is tightly stuck to the foil and no amount of wiping will get rid of it. If so, cutting off those sections is the only way to go.
- Deliver the cleaned and ready-to-recycle aluminum foil to the local recycling center.
Benefits of Recycling
Aluminum happens to be one of the most highly consumed metals, which makes it very important to recycle aluminum foil and cans. Here are some of the major benefits to consider:
Aluminum comes from a natural mineral called bauxite. While this mineral is available in abundance, the process of mining this resource is harmful to nature, stripping away natural vegetation and soil and driving away local wildlife. Recycling allows already mined aluminum to be reused.
Another aspect of using fresh aluminum is the huge amount of energy consumed in its production, but recycling aluminum uses a fraction of that energy.
Caustic soda, which is used to extract aluminum from bauxite, is a substance that can seep into groundwater and cause health issues when the water is consumed by people living near mining sites.
Every piece of metal that is thrown away ends up in the scrapyard and if not recycled it will end up in landfills. Land is another precious resource that needs to be used efficiently. Reusing aluminum reduces landfills, which benefits the environment.
Food is something that is consumed every day and aluminum is widely used for storing food. Cans are suitable for processed foods while foil is useful for storing leftovers and wrapping food items. Recycling this commonplace material ensures that resources are saved and lower quantities of fresh aluminum are processed.
Other Basic Benefits of Aluminum Can Recycling:
Aluminum can recycling helps:
- Reduce labor costs associated with the handling of aluminum cans during the waste disposal process
- Generate revenues from the sale of the recycled aluminum
- Free up space
- Streamline overall waste processing operations
- Improve workplace safety and neatness
Recycling Equipment Considerations
Bale weights of aluminum cans compressed by using Vertical Balers or Horizontal Balers typically range from around 150 pounds for a Standard 30″ Baler up to 1,000 pounds for a 10″ Cylinder 60″ Super High Density Vertical Baler. Usually, a 60″ Vertical Baler with a 7″ cylinder is recommended for achieving bales weights of 500 pounds.
Although the Horizontal Balers can produce higher output per day or hour through automation, the cost is many times that of a vertical baler.
In today’s times, it is faster, cheaper, and more energy-efficient to recycle aluminum than it was before. Being 100% recyclable, aluminum is the most recyclable (and valuable) of all materials. So, toss the aluminum can and foil in your recycling bin today; it will be recycled and return to the shelf in just 60 days.
Compactor Management Company (former Northern California Compactors, Inc.) offers installation and support services for waste recycling equipment such as trash compactors, balers, shredders & conveyor systems. Established in 1981, it offers waste management solutions across the United States.