A big advantage of metal in comparison with other materials is that it has a long service life. This applies not only for the material itself, but also for the products in which metals are used e.g. cars, aircraft and machines. These products are often used over decades, after which the installed material cannot be taken back for recycling in the short term. However, a negative trend has been observed over several years.
New products on the market are becoming more complex and more short-lived, for example television sets. While TV equipment in former times often survived for a decade and longer, nowadays after only a few years the device is defective or has been replaced by new technology. The case is similar for smartphones.
As a result of the processing of the new devices, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to separate many materials from each other, and in the worst case can therefore only be disposed of or incinerated, however, no longer recycled.
Aluminium – Recycling and primary generation
As well as the above-mentioned entertainment electronics, drink cans are also a very short-lived metal product. These are often manufactured from aluminium without the addition of other materials. In the video you can find out more about the removal of the paint residue on aluminum.
A good aspect of drink cans is that used cans are completely recyclable and then new cans are produced with the aluminium recovered. This has an ecological advantage as well. To recycle aluminium in comparison requires only a fraction, approx. 5%, of the energy used in the primary generation. Primary generation is the process of manufacturing new aluminum from bauxite ore. Exactly the same energy quantity is required for a single drink can produced from fresh aluminum as for 20 cans of recycled aluminum.
How are metals separated from each other and recycled?
Due to the many varieties of metals, however, recycling is often more complicated than presumed. Supposing you throw away an aluminium can and rusty nails together into the garbage. These can be separated from each other by a magnet in the sorting plant. However, what happens when you dispose of different aluminum alloys together. Then finally you must either operate with a very high outlay in order to separate the aluminum into grades, or recycle the different aluminum alloys as a whole. This procedure calls itself downcycling. Downcycling means that different materials are merged together. As a result of that, the material quality decreases.
This is similar in the case of clothing: New yarn can generally be processed better than recycled yarn. The article of clothing is therefore more uniform and has a higher quality. For a cleaning cloth this would be irrelevant however. Requirement and objective are thus always decisive and finally it must be considered for what and in which quantity the recycled metal is used.
If the material quality is too inferior, only thermal utilisation still remains and thus incineration in order to use the energy released. Particularly in Sweden an enormous amount of energy is produced through waste incineration.
Assist in the recycling of aluminum as an individual and earn money
Garbage separation is a first step here. You can dispose of small quantities of aluminium in your council recycling, because the recycling system can separate different materials. Large devices, such as for example washing machines, television sets or computers should be taken to a household waste recycling centre. Most helpful, however, is if you use your devices for as long as possible, repair them in case of defects and not throw them away or replace them with new items.
For aluminium without adherents you can get more than £ 0.40 per kilogram with a metal dealer. See how much recylable scrap you can collect in a year. Perhaps it is sufficient for a small family meal at the end of the year, and you have also helped the environment.
Summary – What have we learned about metal recycling?
- Metal can be better recycled than many other materials.
- Recycling aluminium and reusing it takes significantly less energy than producing new aluminium.
- Downcycling designates a new utilization of the materials, however, with decreased quality.
- You can help in recycling if you separate different materials from each other before you dispose of them in the garbage.
- Above a certain quantity, you can exchange metal for cash, for example with a scrap dealer.