Research flags issues impacting can-to-can aluminium recycling

By Julia Wray 4-Feb-2021

Industry group AEROBAL says the scarcity of recycled aluminium poses a major challenge for greening the industry

The closed can-to-can recycling loop is not as eco-friendly as it could be where aluminium aerosols are concerned, new research has revealed.

The investigation, which was commissioned by the International Organisation of Aluminium Aerosol Container Manufacturers (AEROBAL) and carried out by Swiss research institute Carbotech, flagged both the multitude of available alloys and the scarcity of recycled aluminium as major challenges.

The study showed that there’s not just one aluminium specification, but different aluminium alloys used in the production of tailor-made products, each with different properties.

The good news is that, after recycling, the use of this recycled material can be more appropriate than primary aluminium for certain applications, if already existing alloying elements in the recycled aluminium support the product requirements.

However, the study further found that demand for recycled aluminium is currently much higher than supply. Only around 25% of today’s global aluminium demand can be satisfied by recycled aluminium. Therefore, AEROBAL noted that the focus on recycled content, at present, has little influence on environmental impact.

Research also revealed that in specific cases, where you get aluminium scrap with the needed properties without huge effort, a closed product loop for aerosols could be beneficial.

However, AEROBAL further noted that, more often than not, the higher distances for scrap transportation and additional sorting and melting steps (with ensuing higher material losses) required for a closed product loop system actually increases adverse environmental impacts.

To improve the situation, efficient collection and sorting of aluminium packaging, as well as better consumer education about recycling will be paramount, said AEROBAL and Carbotech.

According to Carbotech’s Dr Fredy Dinkel: “The best strategy is to focus on high collection and sorting rates to maximise the amount of aluminium that stays in the market in the sense of a closed material loop.

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"Thus, recycling rates should be further increased because they sustainably reduce the environmental burden, irrespective of the application the recovered material will flow into.”