Aluminum is everywhere. We see it in soft drink cans, beer cans, pie plates, foil, packaging, siding, gutters, and more. What most people don’t realize is that aluminum is practically the perfect recyclable material. Out of the most common recyclable materials that clutter up our landfills—glass, paper, metals, cardboard, plastics—aluminum is the only material that’s endlessly recyclable, 100% recyclable, and that pays for itself. Here are some other interesting facts we bet you don’t know about aluminum recycling:
- It takes energy to make aluminum from scratch. The energy you save by recycling a single aluminum can will run a TV for three hours.
- In fact, it takes 95% less energy to make aluminum from bauxite ore than to recycle old aluminum into new.
- Aluminum beverage cans are getting lighter. Twenty years ago, a pound of aluminum made about twenty cans. Today, the same amount of aluminum makes approximately thirty cans. The thickness of the side of an aluminum can is about the same as that of a human hair.
- It takes about 400 years for aluminum to break down naturally. That Coke can you just drank from will probably still look about the same in another century or two.
- With all the industries that use aluminum—in manufacturing, in packaging, in cars and airplanes—the industry that uses the most aluminum is the beverage industry.
- In 2004, Americans recycled enough aluminum to build thirteen aircraft carriers.
- Every three months, Americans discard enough aluminum to completely rebuild every single commercial airplane in America.
- Approximately 350,000 aluminum cans are made in a minute.
- Aluminum can be recycled over and over without breaking down. In theory, we have an inexhaustible supply of it in circulation right now. If we recycled all our aluminum, we’d never have to make more.
- The average American discarded fourteen and a half pounds of aluminum just from packaging last year—and almost three pounds of aluminum foil. That’s not even counting aluminum cans.
- Most people don’t realize how strong a metal aluminum is. Four six packs can support the weight of a 4,000-lb. aluminum car.
- Aluminum has a phenomenally high melting point—1,220ºF, to be exact.
- A long time ago, aluminum was a much more valuable metal than gold or silver.
- The aluminum in one single soda can is worth about a cent. Americans threw away millions of cans last year. The American government could pay off a significant portion of its debt with a few years’ worth of aluminum cans.
- Four pounds of raw bauxite ore is saved for every pound of aluminum that is reclaimed in the recycling process.
- The aluminum Americans throw away each year is enough to provide the auto industry with all the raw material it needs to build a year’s worth of new cars.
- Because our landfills are so full of aluminum cans, some landfills incinerate extra aluminum. This isn’t just a huge waste; it also pours toxic metals and gases into the atmosphere.
- Aluminum is valuable. It’s still very much in demand, and recycled aluminum is just as useful and desirable as new. In fact, aluminum is the only recyclable material that depots can recoup their recycling costs with.
- Making aluminum from bauxite ore is a dirty process—and burning it is even worse. By doubling our aluminum recycling rate, we could cut a million tons of pollutants per year out of the atmosphere.
- Recycling aluminum isn’t just about collecting cans. You can also recycle old siding, aluminum foil, and even the gutters on your roof. Most recycling depots that take cans will also take these materials.
- Every part of the can is reusable—you don’t have to prepare it in any way, other than to rinse it out.
- In 1996, aluminum manufacturers saved enough energy by recycling aluminum instead of creating it from bauxite ore to power a city the size of Pittsburg for six years or so.
- Aluminum recycles in no time at all. When you send a can to a recycling depot, it’s processed, recycled, and back on the shelf again in about a month.
There’s no downside to recycling aluminum: it’s fast, it pays for itself, and it’s great for the environment. So next time you get ready to throw out that aluminum foil you wrapped your sandwich in at work or at school, think again—that aluminum could be back on the shelf in a month, save enough energy to run a big appliance like a TV for three hours or so, and pay for its own recycling costs in the process. Recycle it instead of throwing it out, and you’ll be doing the world some good.