Posted on Jun 1, 2013 in Home & Living, Local resources, Science & nature
We go through diet soda in this house like it’s going out of style, so we end up putting a lot of cans in our recycling bins every week. How are the old cans recycled?
Once considered more valuable than gold, these days you find aluminum in everything. From jumbo jets to bicycles and cars, covering the leftovers in your fridge and in the gutters that drain the rain from your roof, and of course in the ubiquitous “tin” can, aluminum is everywhere. It’s hard to imagine life without it.
However, the mining and refinement of aluminum is still a costly process, both in money and energy, and as a result roughly 37% of all aluminum produced in the US comes from recycled scrap — sensible, considering it only takes about 5% as much energy to recycle it, as opposed to extracting it from ore.
So, let’s take a look at what happens after you’ve polished off the last of that 12-pack.
Whether you return your cans for a deposit, have them picked up curbside, or bring them to the recycler yourself, the process is the same.
The cans are transported from their various collection facilities to a regional scrap processing center. The cans are then crushed, either into 30 pound bricks or 1,200 pound bales to make them easier to transport in large quantities back to various aluminum companies, who buy back the scrap.
Once there, crushed cans are then shredded, crushed again, and all the decorations inside and out are burned off. The shredded bits are then dumped into a melting furnace, where they are mixed with fresh aluminum.
>> Also see: How is glass recycled?
From there, the molten metal is poured into massive ingots, which are then rolled out into very thin sheets, which are then coiled and shipped out to can makers — who then make the cans that will eventually be recycled again.
Cans aren’t the only aluminum product that can be recycled, of course — and while it’s hard to imagine a 747 ending up in shredded little pieces and being melted down, it happens. It just takes longer. The same is true of aluminum engine blocks and wheels from cars, and other industrial uses for the metal. Almost all of it can be melted back down and reused in a new application.
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