The process of extracting aluminum from its original source – bauxite ore has historically been accomplished through primary aluminum reduction – via an electric arc furnace. Here alumina is electrolytically reduced into molten aluminum. This reaction occurs in reduction cells where the bound oxygen in the alumina reacts with carbon electrodes (negatively charged) to form carbon dioxide gas and aluminum. Each ton of aluminum requires 0.4 to 0.5 tons of carbon anodes. These furnaces generally utilize fossil fuel to generate tremendous amounts of electricity which is consumed in the process. Annual energy consumption in this industry approaches 225 trillion BTUs. In fact, it takes 12 to 20 times more energy to make aluminum from bauxite ore than re-manufacturing it from recycled aluminum (secondary recovery process).
So what impact does this have on a sustainable community? When you consider that 99% of all bauxite ore is imported into the U.S. each year, combined with the energy used to import and transport this ore, the energy consumed to process the ore into aluminum, the pollution generated not only from the combustion of fossil fuels to power the electric generators, but also the pollution generated by the reaction process itself, the overall process for refining aluminum from ore, the end result is an enormous impact on the environment.
Recycling aluminum saves energy and conserves natural resource. Recycling aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy needed to produce new metal from raw materials, it conserves our natural resources by decreasing the demand for the raw material required to make primary aluminum from ore. It also reduces air emissions including greenhouse gases.
A common practice since the early 1900s, recycling was a low profile activity until 1968 when recycling of aluminum beverage cans vaulted the industry into the public consciousness. Fifty years later, aluminum recycling is supported by a national infrastructure. In 1972, 24,000 metric tons of aluminum used beverage cans were recycled, and by 2006, the number has grown to 525,000 metric tons.
Although these numbers are impressive they fail to tell the whole story. Americans went through more than 100 billion aluminum cans in 2000, but only recycled 54.5% of them, according to the Container Recycling Institute. The aluminum can recycling rate has trended generally downward since 1992 when a 65% recycling rate was achieved. The current recycling rate for aluminum cans in the U.S. is 51%.
So what can we do to improve on the 51% recycling rate?
Recycling begins with the individual, be aware of your usage, make an honest attempt to recover and recycle every used aluminum can. The energy saved by recycling one aluminum can is enough to power your TV for three hours.
Encourage eco-friendly, pro-environment, recycling activities within the family. If you set the example, your children will follow. Once it becomes second nature to their accustomed life style, they will follow the practice for the rest of their lives.
Try not to throw your aluminum cans into public provided trash cans when you are out, keep a recycling trash bag in your vehicle, take them home with you and recycle them in accordance with your local recycling program.
Promote a state wide bottle and can deposit program. Several states do this already and statistics show that in states where can deposits are collected the rate of recycling sores to 80%.
The energy needed to replace aluminum cans discarded in the United States each year could power a city the size of Atlanta for one year.
Saving tomorrow begins today!