Aluminum Recycling

The first step to minimizing the expense of waste is to reduce the waste generated. But when the waste can not be reduced, we must reuse or recycle it. Aluminum cans can not be reduced, but they can be reused in art projects or recycled.

Aluminum cans are the premiere example of a recyclable waste. Making aluminum form recycled aluminum requires less than five (5) percent of the energy originally used to make aluminum from bauxite ore. That's like improving the gas mileage of your car nineteen (19) times. To make aluminum, bauxite ore is mined then shipped to a refining plant. Machines crush and chemically treat the ore to produce a white powdery oxide called alumina. In the final stage, a high-voltage electrical current is passed through the mixture to separate the aluminum from the oxygen. The molten metal is then drawn off and recast in "ingots" for use in manufacturing. From one ton (2,240 pounds) of the original bauxite ore, the manufacturers only get 500 pounds of pure aluminum. To get "manufacturing-grade" aluminum through recycling, scrap is simply melted and recast. This eliminates the mining, refining and reduction processes, as well as reducing shipping costs. By recycling just one aluminum can, we save enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning about three and a half hours. For each pound of metal recycled, the aluminum industry saves the energy resources needed to generate about 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. In 1986, the aluminum industry saved enough energy to meet the electric needs for about six years of a city the size of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


To start an Aluminum Recycling Program:

  • Identify aluminum recycling centers in your area. Check in the phone book under recycling aluminum, resource recovery, or scrap metals. Determine rates, hours of operation, and procedures for cashing in cans at each center you contact.


  • Ask the recycling center whether they offer any assistance to groups recycling as a fund raising project. Aluminum companies and local beverage distributors also may be willing to help. Frequently, useful resources such as posters, bumper stickers, flyers, and films can be yours for the asking.


  • Sell members of your group on the idea. Make them enthusiastic. Enthusiasm almost guarantees the success of your program. Start with a meeting to introduce the program. Ask for volunteers to plan strategies and produce materials, to keep records, and to deliver cans to recycling centers. Keep interest high with a contest among members. Challenge them to collect a determined number of cans or raise a set amount of money.


  • Recruit the aid of local businesses that sell beverages in aluminum cans. Many service stations, restaurants, and stores would welcome the opportunity to help a worthy cause. They can make your group's job easier by keeping aluminum cans in separate containers until you are able to pick them up. You may need to leave a special container at each site.


  • Reach out to others in the community by passing out materials at shopping centers and other high-visibility locations. Where permitted, display posters.


  • Use the media. Newspapers and television and radio stations can help promote your program. For optimal coverage, find an interesting angle. You could advertise how you will use the proceeds. Help reporters with information about recycling.


  • Recycle wisely. Wait until you have a large quantity of cans to return so you don't waste time and gas. Load the cans in large plastic bags or boxes. Use these bags and boxes over and over. Make sure that the cans you collect are made of aluminum. Most aluminum cans are clearly marked. When in doubt, check with a magnet. Aluminum cans are not magnetic. You don't have to smash your aluminum cans before delivering them to the recycling center, but it does save space.


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