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Recycling aluminum

By LaVerne C. Paulson

Fri, Mar 22nd, 2013
Posted in All Arts & Culture

LaVerne C. Paulson

Recycling Education Coordinator

The recycling of aluminum started in the early 1900s. Then, during WWII, great amounts of metal were needed, and it became quite extensive. Then, after a bit of a lull, the introduction of the aluminum beverage can in the 1960s caused an explosion in the aluminum recycling business and it hasn’t slowed down since. A year or two ago, fifty-four billion aluminum cans were recycled in the United States.... or if you prefer, approximately one million tons.

Most of the aluminum recycled in Fillmore County is in the form of beverage containers. The aluminum in a can looks a lot different than the raw material, bauxite, that is mined in Canada, China, Australia, Viet Nam, India, Russia and other distant locations. Recycling as much aluminum as possible here in the United States is extremely important so we don’t have to depend on foreign countries to supply our huge demand for pop cans. However, Americans throw tons of aluminum worth millions of dollars into landfills each year. On a brighter note, the people of Minnesota recycled over 38,500 tons of aluminum in 2009.

Aluminum cans are the most valuable containers in the United States. Twenty years ago, one pound of aluminum made nineteen beverage cans. Today, due to “lightweighting,” the average is twenty-eight beverage cans per pound. In case you are wondering why aluminum cans are much easier to crush today than years ago, it maybe isn’t that you have been working out and really aren’t that much stronger. The truth is that the sides of an aluminum can are much thinner than they were several years ago. The metal that makes up your aluminum beverage containers (pop cans) at the present time is very close to the thickness of a human hair.

We need to keep aluminum cans out of the landfill and send them back to the plants that make new cans to be sent to the beverage companies to be filled once again. The energy saved from recycling one aluminum can may power a TV for three hours. Once aluminum is made from bauxite ore, it can be recycled and recycled again. Over two-thirds of the aluminum ever produced is still in use today.

Aluminum cans are shredded, cleaned, melted, and mixed with a pure molten aluminum. This mixture is then recast into new aluminum products. Aluminum foil and trays can be made into wrapping foil, pie plates and food trays, as well as gum or candy wrappers. Aluminum foil and aluminum trays, are recyclable if clean and dry.

Aluminum cans containing food products only contain food that has been precooked. Aluminum cans cannot withstand the heat required to cook food within the can. Aluminum recycled in Minnesota is also used to make playground equipment and various kinds of signs. There is a pretty good chance that an aluminum can recycled here in Fillmore County will be made into a different aluminum can and be back on a grocery shelf in about sixty days.

Aluminum beverage cans are the most common form of recycled, non-magnetic metal. More than fifty percent of a new aluminum can is recycled aluminum. Ninety-five percent of all beverage cans are 100 percent aluminum, while only five percent are bimetal where the tops are made of aluminum and tin. Bimetal cans are certainly recyclable and frequently mixed with steel to become part of a new steel can.

Aluminum products made from recycled aluminum include lawn furniture tubing, storm doors, computers, cookware, jewelry, wire, window frames, siding, gutters, downspouts, aircraft, softball bats, lawn mower housings, pots and pans, boats, canoes, and some automobile parts, and of course, soda cans.

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