Aluminium is arguably the most sustainable building material in the world, it’s often called the GREEN metal. Infinitely recyclable and highly durable, nearly 75 percent of all aluminium ever produced is still in use today.
The recycling process creates high quality aluminium which loses none of the physical properties of primary aluminium and also uses just 5% of the energy it takes to create primary aluminium.
Let's dig into this magical metal...
For materials to be regarded sustainable, it's important to consider its renewability.
So what do we mean by renewable resources?
Renewable vs. Non-Renewable Resources
Renewable resources belong to the natural environment and can be replaced by natural processes that occur in that environment as part of an ecosystem. As an example, we learned last week that Bamboo is regarded as highly sustainable because it's fast growing and able to replenish itself when cut down.
Non-renewable resources on the other hand, are finite, there a fixed amount of it on this earth and once used, will be gone. It can also mean resources that are used up faster than nature can create or replenish them over.
The risk of depleting a natural resource should outweigh the need to use them, particularly when sustainable alternatives exist, but as seen in the energy industry in particular, we continue to use oil, coal and gas today, when greener sources of energy (Hydro-electric power, Wind, Tidal, Solar or even Nuclear) have been in the mix for decades.
Aluminium, the Greenest metal around?
Aluminium can, with justification, be described as the “green” metal. It has helped considerably in the fight against waste, energy consumption and environmental damage, especially in the construction industry. It is by far the most widely used nonferrous metal (does not contain iron) in the world - this is because aluminium has numerous benefits: it's super versatile, low weight, high strength, incredibly malleable, corrosion resistant, is a good conductor of heat and electricity, not to mention it's recyclability.
Aluminium is infinitely recyclable, retaining it's properties in the process, creating a high-quality product that stands up against primary aluminium (primary being the first formation of aluminium from its raw materials - Alumina)
Alumina (or Aluminium oxide) is produced from bauxite, an ore mainly found in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Latin America, South America, Africa and Australia. The world’s known deposits of are sufficient to support the current production rate of aluminium for another 300 years. The aluminium industry worldwide takes great care in its mining operations to reinstate land after the bauxite has been dug out. Although there is a higher environmental impact in the production of primary aluminium, great care is taken to restore and re-vegetate mine sites following the mineral extraction. Globally, the area rehabilitated each year now equals the area being mined.
Although 53.5% of the electricity used to produce primary aluminium worldwide comes from environmentally-friendly, non-polluting sources, there's still a way to go with the energy industry to ensure CO2 emissions from the production of aluminium is entirely renewable.
A few facts on the recycling of Aluminium
Recycling 1 tonne of aluminium saves 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions and 4 tonnes of bauxite – 1 tonne of CO2 is equivalent to driving 2,800 miles.
Making aluminium cans from recycled metal is 20 times more energy efficient than using primary material (i.e made from raw materials)
The empty drink can you recycle could pass through the recycling process and be back on sale as a brand new can in just 60 days
The Aluminium Association, Bauxite: https://www.aluminum.org/industries/production/bauxite
Aluminium for future generations, mining and rehabilitation: https://bauxite.world-aluminium.org/mining/rehabilitation/
The aluminium packaging recycling organisation: https://alupro.org.uk/industry/local-authorities/environmental-benefits/
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