The aluminium recycling cycle. Would you like to know what it involves?

The aluminIum recycling cycle is a complex process, involving several factors. Both its recovery channels and its applications and markets offer multiple possibilities. The role of the recycler becomes fundamental for being at the centre of the “cycle” and collaborating decisively to give the best possible use to a material that can be practically 100% recycled.

What is the aluminium recycling cycle like?

Used aluminium is produced mainly by two channels: from the consumption waste, whether household or industrial (e.g. electric cables, lithographic boards, beverage cans, other containers and packaging, dismantling of cars, demolition, among others) and from offcuts and shavings produced during the manufacture of aluminium products. Therefore, for wholesale recyclers, there may be different types of suppliers: the industry in general, factories, small workshops, sorting plants, retailers, or wholesalers, showing an increasing internationalisation of this industry.

Many different types of aluminium are sold in the recovery market, but they can basically be grouped into four categories: lamination products (building plates, printing plates, aluminium foil, parts of car bodies…), extruded aluminium (window profiles, car parts…), cast aluminium either by gravity or by injection (engine parts, door handles, etc.), and drawn aluminium for the manufacture of cables and other uses.

The industry also classifies aluminium into primary, which is extracted from bauxite ore, and secondary, whose basic raw material is aluminium scraps and offcuts from used aluminium and manufacturing offcuts.

The term “scrap” is used in a broad sense, known as already used waste of metal products, aware that the recovery industry uses this term mainly to refer to waste of iron and steel products.

This fact also conditions the recycling process since, when prices fall, less material is recovered. In any case, as it is listed on the stock exchange (LME), the aluminium market is open, so prices are the same anywhere in the world. However, as in any other industry, the law of supply and demand establishes the guidelines at any given time.

The Refiner

Aluminium refineries are the last link in the chain of this material recycling. Generally, purchases exceed 10 tons, so suppliers are always wholesale recyclers. When a purchase agreement has been reached with them, a general analysis of the raw material is carried out to verify characteristics. In addition, when the material enters the refinery, samples from each lorry are also analysed to avoid introducing substances that are not suitable for the refinery’s production process into the oven.

In these facilities, if aluminium cans or, for example, any other coated scrap is melted, combustion occurs, and the combustion products are captured by means of special filters through which fumes pass, avoiding atmospheric pollution. Special furnaces with filtration installations, which are usually more expensive than the furnace itself, are needed to melt this type of material. The final product of the refineries is aluminium ingots in sizes and alloy based on the client demand.

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