Only One Planet

This page last updated: 29 January 2004

ALUMINIUM? WHAT'S THE DEAL?
The main source of aluminium is bauxite, first found in 1821 in a French village of Les Baux. It takes between five and ten tonnes of bauxite to produce one tonne of aluminium (depending on the grade of the ore and the efficiency of the plant). World primary production of aluminium was 20.5 million metric tonnes in 2001. World reserves of bauxite are currently estimated to be around 30 million tonnes. Raw material costs are approximately 50% of the cost of finished aluminium.

As far as energy is concerned, the smelting process takes 14,000 to 14,500 KWH per ton. Recycling aluminium uses only 5% of the power needed to make aluminium from raw materials. In other words, 20 cans made from recycled aluminium use the same power as just 1 can made from new aluminium!

Recycling 1 kg of aluminium saves 8 kg of bauxite, 4 kg of chemical products and 14 Kilowatts of electricity.

Aluminium CanSO, HOW ARE WE DOING IN THE UK?
In 2000 the UK consumed 5 billion aluminium drinks cans, of which 42% were recycled. This sounds impressive until you compare it to rates of 91% in Switzerland and Finland. There would be 12 million less full dustbins each year in the UK if all aluminium drinks cans were recycled!

In Ireland, where 250 million cans are used every year, only 20% are recycled.

NOTE ON STEEL RECYCLING
The UK recycles less steel than Australia (43%), Korea (47%), the USA (59%), South Africa (63%) and Japan (86%), despite needing to recycle 50% of all metals by 2008 in order to meet new European legislation.

"CASH FOR CANS"
You can exchange your aluminium cans for cash at over 600 "cash for cans" centres or mobile van sites across the UK, paying between 35p and 45p per kilo (that's approximately 50 to 60 cans). It may not sound like very much for your bag full of crushed cans, but in 2000 we threw 3 billion drinks cans into landfill sites - they would have been worth 22.5 million if exchanged for cash! Just think how much your local schools or charities could raise if they had a "can drive". As a general rule, 50,000 cans weigh one tonne and, if you crush them, they'll take up about four cubic metres. You can find your nearest "Cash for Cans" centre via the Alupro website

Overall, nearly 60% of the aluminium used in the UK has been previously recycled. 

ALU MarkHOW DO I TELL IF MY CAN IS ALUMINIUM?
If your can isn't aluminium then it will be tin-plated steel (25% of all drinks cans in the UK are made of this), so the easiest test is to apply a magnet to the side of the can: if it sticks then the can is steel, if it doesn't then it's aluminium. Also, the aluminium cans will have a shiny bottom and may carry the "alu" mark (see left).

Aluminium DishCAN I RECYCLE ANY OTHER FORMS OF ALUMINIUM?
You sure can. Cooking foil, foil milk bottle tops, baking and freezing trays are all good sources of aluminium which are used by the automotive industry for casting engine blocks, cylinder heads, etc. Keep them separate from your cans though, as they are made of a different aluminium alloy.

THE YANKS ARE BEATING THE BRITS!
In the USA they produced 100 billion cans in 2001 and had an amazing 55% recycling rate (according to the Aluminium Association).

Graph of Aluminium Can Production and Recycling in USA (1972 to 2001)

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This page last updated: 29 January 2004