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Recycling of aluminium

Aluminium recycling code

Main article: Aluminium recycling

Aluminium is theoretically 100% recyclable without any loss of its natural qualities. According to the International Resource Panel's Metal Stocks in Society report, the global per capita stock of aluminium in use in society (i.e. in cars, buildings, electronics etc.) is 80 kg. Much of this is in more-developed countries (350ĘC500 kg per capita) rather than less-developed countries (35 kg per capita). Knowing the per capita stocks and their approximate lifespans is important for planning recycling.

Recovery of the metal via recycling has become an important use of the aluminium industry. Recycling was a low-profile activity until the late 1960s, when the growing use of aluminium beverage cans brought it to the public awareness.

Recycling involves melting the scrap, a process that requires only 5% of the energy used to produce aluminium from ore, though a significant part (up to 15% of the input material) is lost as dross (ash-like oxide).[27] An aluminum stack melter will have significantly less dross, with values reported below 1%.[28] The dross can undergo a further process to extract aluminium.

In Europe aluminium experiences high rates of recycling, ranging from 42% of beverage cans, 85% of construction materials and 95% of transport vehicles.[29]

Recycled aluminium is known as secondary aluminium, but maintains the same physical properties as primary aluminium. Secondary aluminium is produced in a wide range of formats and is employed in 80% of alloy injections. Another important use is for extrusion.

White dross from primary aluminium production and from secondary recycling operations still contains useful quantities of aluminium that can be extracted industrially.[30] The process produces aluminium billets, together with a highly complex waste material. This waste is difficult to manage. It reacts with water, releasing a mixture of gases (including, among others, hydrogen, acetylene, and ammonia), which spontaneously ignites on contact with air;[31] contact with damp air results in the release of copious quantities of ammonia gas. Despite these difficulties, the waste has found use as a filler in asphalt and concrete.[32]