No other material offers the versatility and environmental benefits of aluminum.
As aluminum is infinitely recyclable, it is the material of choice for balancing the demand of a growing economy with the need to preserve the environment. Our raw materials vary considerably based on whether we are using primary or recycled aluminum. We must take into account the different sustainability impacts of sourcing primary aluminum from the mined substance bauxite, or recycled aluminum from either pre- or post-consumer sources.
The raw material phase of the aluminum product life cycle is where we currently see the most opportunity for sustainability improvements through recycling. Recycling aluminum requires 95% less energy, and produces 95% fewer greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), than manufacturing primary aluminum. However, even when we reach our 80% recycled goal, we will continue to utilize primary raw materials, albeit at a significantly lower level. This means we need to consider the impacts of all primary and recycled aluminum production to truly take a life cycle approach.
Since the first industrial production of aluminum in the 1880s, 75% of an estimated 900 million tons of aluminum produced is still in use today. Although partially due to recycling, this is also because the expected time in use for some aluminum products can be as long as several decades (see figure below). About 32% of aluminum still in use is located in the form of buildings, and another 28% in transportation products such as cars, trucks, trains and ships. This adds to our challenge when it comes to recovering post-consumer scrap.
Globally, close to 70% of all aluminum cans are recycled, making it the world's most recycled packaging product. Because aluminum is infinitely recyclable, it can be reused in applications vastly different from its previous purpose, and it can also be recast into its original form. These properties make aluminum an ideal material for use in premium applications, even after being recycled many times. For example, a 50-year-old building facade can be recycled into the aluminum needed for an engine block of a new car with no degradation in quality, and an aluminum can that is recycled can be back on the grocery store shelf in just 60 days.
Yet, there is plenty of room for improvement. The industry is committed to recycling aluminum without compromising on energy conservation or natural resource protection. Novelis is focused on increasing the end-of-life recycling of our products in partnership with other stakeholders in the aluminum production and recycling chain globally. For example, in the United States, we support industry-wide efforts to increase the recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans to 75% by 2015.
Go to the following areas of our website to see how the recycling process works or to learn how you, your community, or your organization can recycle:
Or, read more about Novelis’ Recycling Strategy in our latest Sustainability Report.