Aluminum can recycling is a notion promoted by people trying to live sustainable lives. Sustainability is the attempt to conserve natural resources and biodiversity by taking on certain lifestyle habits and the three R's: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Aluminum is one of those natural resources, and it is considered the most abundant metal on earth. An empty aluminum can is worth about 1 US penny, and over 50% of aluminum cans produced are still being recycled. Due to advances in technology, recycling aluminum has become more efficient and convenient. The metal is shredded and crushed, then melted to make new cans.
Much like glass recycling, aluminum can recycling is a cyclical process that begins once consumers toss the cans into their curbside recycling bins, where it is picked up and shipped off to the recycling plant. In the United States, approximately two out of three cans produced make it to local recycling centers. Upon collection at regional scrap processing plants, the cans are compacted into dense briquettes or bales. These masses can range anywhere from 30 to 1,200 pounds (13.6 to 544 kilograms), and they are shipped off to aluminum companies for melting into new cans.
The compacted masses of cans are stripped of any superfluous layers on the inside or outside of the product container through a burning process. Then they are shredded and crushed into wood chip-sized pieces of aluminum. The pieces are piled into a melting furnace, which combines the recycled metal with new, pure pieces of aluminum.
Once in a molten state, the aluminum is poured into enormously heavy ingots, which is then is rolled into sheets that are 0.01 inch (0.254 millimeters) thick, via the rolling mill. The sheets are then removed, coiled, and shipped to can makers. At this point, the process is complete. The manufacturers produce the can bodies and lids that are passed on to beverage companies that fill them with their product. The finished products ultimately end up in grocery store shelves. THe entire aluminum can recycling process can span as little as 60 days from start to finish.