What Happens When You Recycle Your Aluminum Cans

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There's a good reason why aluminum is one of the most popular metals to recycle. Not only is it highly valuable, but it's also 100-percent recyclable. One of the most popular uses for aluminum is for soft drinks, beers and other beverages. The average aluminum beverage can is made up of 70 percent recycled aluminum.

Speaking of aluminum cans, ever wonder what happens after you've dropped your aluminum cans in your recycling bin? The following explains how these cans are eventually reused as a wide variety of products including - you guessed it - aluminum cans.

From Pickup to Processing

The process of transforming those aluminum cans into new products starts the moment your local recycler picks up your aluminum cans and other recyclables. After the recycling company makes its rounds, the collected material is taken to a recycling plant to be sorted and separated.

Once your recyclables arrive at the treatment plant, the aluminum is sorted from the rest through the use of powerful magnets. Since aluminum is a non-ferrous metal, it lacks the strong magnetic attraction of iron and other metals. As a result, aluminum and other non-ferrous metals will remain on the conveyor while the magnet picks up and sorts other metals. In most cases, the aluminum is also hand-sorted to ensure that it's all collected and available for the next step.

Once all of the available aluminum scrap is properly sorted, the metal is cleaned to ensure that there are as few contaminants as possible. Afterwards, the cans and other aluminum scrap are melted down into molten aluminum. This process not only brings the aluminum back to its basic form, but it also removes the various inks and coatings covering the metal.

What Happens Afterwards

After the aluminum is melted down, the molten product is poured into molds and allowed to cool until it solidifies into a large, oblong block known as an ingot. Ingots make it easier for the recycling plant and others to handle and transport the material.

The ingots are then prepped for transport and delivered to a mill where the ingots are melted down and processed into aluminum rolls of varying thicknesses. The rolls themselves are shipped to various plants and factories where they'll be turned into a broad range of products, including aluminum cans.

There are plenty of benefits to recycling aluminum cans. Not only does it take less energy to recycle a can into a new product than creating a can from virgin aluminum ore, but aluminum cans can be recycled as many times as needed. In fact, the U.S. still uses approximately 75 percent of the aluminum it produces.

Preparation Tips to Remember

Preparation is the key when it comes to recycling your aluminum cans, as it'll make them easier for your local recycler to pick up and process. Here are some tips that can benefit you and your recycler:

  • Rinse out your cans - Leftover soda, juices and other residue can not only leave your recycling bins a sticky mess, but it can also draw animals and insects to your bin.
  • Don't leave cans wet - You should make sure your aluminum cans are not only clean, but also dry before putting them in the bin. Drain your cans by turning them upside down on an old towel and allowing them to drip dry.
  • Save space by crushing your cans - Crushing your cans down to size creates space for even more cans. If you're bringing your own cans in for sale, crushing your cans can help maximize your payout.
  • Remember to sort your recyclables - All recyclables, including aluminum cans, should be sorted into separate bins prior to curbside pickup. It'll make it that much easier for the recycling company to sort out once it arrives at the plant.

These tips can help make your recycling experience go more smoothly.

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