In the present socio economic scenario where the world is buzzing with issues like a soaring global population, increasing carbon emission, higher energy cost and insufficient feedstock, recycling is turning out to be the need of the hour rather than a matter of concern. Fortunately, aluminum is one metal that is 100% recyclable and its natural quality does not get affected in the recycling process. Aluminium recycling supports the twin concepts of sustainability and stewardship that encourage a responsible and thoughtful use of resources and urge manufacturers to take responsibility for the environmental, health, and safety effects of a product.
Recycling needs less energy and aluminium can be reproduced from the scrap with only 5% of the total energy used to produce aluminium from bauxite ore. The scrap aluminium is melted to get back the metal. The process involves much lesser cost. Though recycled aluminium is called secondary aluminium, it carries the same physical properties as primary aluminium. As recycling does not damage the metal’s structure, aluminium has the potentiality to be recycled indefinitely and it is used in manufacturing any downstream products for which primary aluminium is used.
Today, the total global aluminium production is close to 56 million tonnes (with close to 18 million tonnes recycled from scrap). The growing environmental and economic concerns and heightened social responsibility have served to boost recycling activity. Aluminium economy is a circular economy where the metal is just ‘used’ and never ‘consumed’ during its lifetime and it can regain its life at the end of its lifetime. From the environmental standpoint, Aluminium recycling emits only 5% of the total greenhouse gas created during aluminium production process. While reducing carbon emissions is intended for preserving ecosystem, carbon management is also productive from business point of view. Emission reduction can cut costs by enhancing process efficiency, lowering energy usage, and reducing consumption of scarce raw materials.
The economic importance of aluminium recycling cannot be neglected as the total output of the recycling industry increased from 1.4 million to 4.7 million in 20 years. Though the primary production remains more or less stable, the recycling industry grew by a massive 94%.
Now the question is how to realize the fullest potential benefits of recycling, both from a business and an environmental point of view. Global aluminum industry is reeling under pressure due to high energy cost and dropping metal price. Big names like Alcoa, Norsk Hydro or Novelis are actively promoting recycling campaigns to create awareness about the process. Phil Martens, CEO of Novelis said that it has plans to double the proportion of scrap it uses as raw material by 2020. It also plans to build its own processing facilities to protect itself from supply restrictions caused by dropping LME price. Once flourishing, Australian Bauxite industry is under threat due to high energy cost and dropping aluminium price. The Indian scenario is not very encouraging either where unexplored raw materials and irregular coal supply are effecting aluminum production. Under such conditions, the secondary or recycled aluminum industry is showing enormous growth potential as one of the most sustainable ways to lower carbon footprint, conserve resources and survive the high energy cost associated with aluminum production.