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Scrap and Secondary Aluminum

More manufacturers are choosing aluminum over other metals. Some industries, such as construction, rely on aluminum for its durability, while others depend on its flexiblity and conduciveness. Aluminum produces natural oxides, creating a thin layer of corrosion resistance. As a result, products made from this material can be 100% recycled while maintaining all of the metal's inherent properties.

In developed countries, supplies of secondary and scrap aluminum are high, contributing to a large recycling market. The energy cost to recycle aluminum is typically over 90% more affordable than producing aluminum from raw materials.

Need help navigating price fluctuations and changes in the aluminum scrap and secondary market? HARBOR has years of experience consulting companies on how to effectively source scrap aluminum for their industry needs.

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Aluminum Scrap & Recycling Industry Explained

Producers across the aluminum industry pay over $800 million per year for recycled and scrap material. Due to its value, almost three-quarters of all the aluminum ever produced remains in circulation today.

The recycling industry creates and sustains more than 160,000 jobs, with an estimated 5,000 jobs supported by recycling efforts. Recycling contributes over $70 billion per year in economic output for the United States.

How Does the Aluminum Recycling Process Work? 

Aluminum is the popular packaging choice for beverage makers and food packaging companies for many reasons, especially printability. Temperatures during the recycling process reach high enough to evaporate commercial paints and lacquers, separating them from the mixture. Aluminum ingots are ready for distribution and reuse.

So how does the aluminum recycling process work? Scrap and secondary aluminum are shredded and sorted to remove glass, metal and other debris. Recycled scrap aluminum is liquified at temperatures over 1200°F, poured into molds and formed into aluminum ingots. The same oxides that produce resistance to corrosion appear after contact with the environment. These oxides, known as dross, are removed with a skimming tool. Dross is refined to extract any valuable materials.

Aluminum recyclers progress through a series of steps to accomplish these goals.

1. Collecting Scrap

In the first step of the aluminum recycling process, a professional works with two different types of aluminum scrap — new and old scrap. New scrap is extra aluminum material produced as an offshoot of the manufacturing and fabrication processes. For instance, extrusions or offcuts of aluminum sheets are considered new scrap. Because its composition is known, new scrap can be recycled safely by aluminum smelters.

Old scrap is aluminum that has been used by consumers and discarded. Examples of old aluminum scrap include car cylinder heads, electrical cabling, window frames and used beverage cans. The composition of old scrap may be contaminated and is typically unknown, meaning smelters cannot safely accept the material. 

In addition to these two types of aluminum scrap collected during the first stages of the aluminum recycling process, smelters can collect aluminum from other community areas. These include local and regional authorities, scrap merchants, households and other sources. 

2. Sorting Scrap

Aluminum scrap is sorted in the second step of the aluminum recycling process. Aluminum smelters group all uncoated aluminum and all coated — lacquered or painted — aluminum together. 

Non-aluminum materials, such as plastic and paper, are removed in this stage.

3. Crushing

In the third step, sorted aluminum scrap is compacted by being crushed into bales. This process ensures reduced handling, storage and freight costs. 

4. Remelting

Any coated aluminum scrap is processed in a gas-fired rotary furnace. This process removes any coating on the aluminum scrap before it's transferred to the remelter or large furnace.

Uncoated aluminum scrap is directly loaded into a remelter, where it converts into molten form after being heated at high temperatures. 

5. Casting

In the last step of the aluminum recycling process, molten aluminum is cast at high temperatures to form ingots or pieces of the aluminum cast into suitable shapes for processing. 

Ingots are then transferred to aluminum manufacturing or processing plants to be made into new products. 

How to Recycle Aluminum Cans and Foil

These days, government entities make it easy to recycle aluminum cans. Programs offering curbside or municipal pickup are widespread, as are recycling bins. 

Local recycling centers are always paying for aluminum, meaning there will be innumerable ways to make a profit or support recycling programs in your community.

You can also recycle aluminum foil — just make sure any food or sauce remnants are scrubbed and cleaned before taking it into a recycling center.

What Are the Benefits of Scrap Aluminum? 

Recycling aluminum saves money and energy compared to producing aluminum from raw materials. Beyond the savings in production costs, recycling is much more energy-efficient than mining operations. As more companies and consumers focus on increasing sustainability, recycled aluminum will emerge even further as the leading metal for manufacturing.

Aluminum can be cast, formed and melted without ever losing its properties. The metal remains strong, workable and durable. Regarding its properties, recycled aluminum is identical to a new aluminum product.

The market outlook for the aluminum scrap metal market is positive, as more companies move toward manufacturing with aluminum. The tech, construction and consumer goods markets consistently find new applications for aluminum.

Demand is increasing and there is a large stockpile of scrap and secondary aluminum wasted each year. Estimates by the EPA place the quantity of aluminum consigned to landfills at over 2.4 million tons — almost 2% of all annual landfill volume.

Aluminum Recycling Consulting for Metal Scrap Companies

The recycling industry contributes over $170 billion to the total national GDP. More enterprises are incorporating aluminum into their products, packaging and production, driving higher demand for recycled scrap and secondary aluminum. Stay informed with consulting services from the HARBOR Aluminum.

HARBOR's metal scrap consulting services include:

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