How are Aluminum Cans Recycled?

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  • Written By: Y. Chen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2019
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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.


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Discuss this Article

Post 30

@Anon3863: I suspect that the effect on the environment is in no way more dramatic than manufacturing strictly from ore. Did you know that a single aluminum can is said to, when recycled, save about as much oil as could be poured into it to fill it up? Well, thanks for reading anyway.

Post 28

This is really helpful for my project.

Post 27

how about the can tabs/. do you buy them as well?

Post 26

thanks for this article. it helped a lot in our research concerning about making an aluminum can crusher using a fluid power technology. from Philippines. Thanks!

Post 25

Thank you for the article. I was wondering if the effects of recycling aluminum is costly. Using all the machinery must cost a lot to do, is this the right method to be using? i also wondered why, in the cost matter, steel metals cost more to recycle. Thank you. Sorry if i have inconvenienced you.

Post 23

Thank you for the info. now i can actually start my project.

Post 22

I live in South Africa, and I would just like to say thanks! I have an enormous project to hand in and your site saved my life! Thanks again, all the way from South Africa!

Post 21

i used to think this stuff was boring but when i read it it turned out to be really interesting and it will definitely help with my earth day project. thanks!

Post 18


Post 14

Aluminum cans are drawn from a single [small] ingot, not from sheet metal. Notice how there is no seam in an aluminum can. The tops however are made from sheet metal in a progressive die.

Post 11

Thanks for the info. it helped me out a lot.

Post 9

thanks for the info.

Post 8

This article helped me a lot with a school project. Cool!

Post 7

Dear anon8710

its not that cool!

From me

Post 6

As I walk through the woods or jog along the roads, I carry a plastic bag and pick up cans (crushing them to minimize space) and sometimes plastic/glass bottles (space permitting and not going far) for recycling. I started noticing other metals that had been dumped in the woods and periodically make forays to gather scrap aluminum, copper, and brass that has been dumped. This often involves disassembly, but I do it. The river is another source of scrap. Recently I found a 22 pound piece of brass that should sell for $22 at current local scrap prices!

Post 4

My 9 and 6 year-old granddaughters have discovered recycling aluminum cans can be profitable. They saved cans from their parents and also picked up cans in the neighborhood. Their first sale was over $45! Now they are recycling with a new fervor. They are using their can money to purchase items for the care boxes they are sending their soldier pen pal in Iraq.

Post 2

im at school right now and today we just learned about aluminum ya how c-o-o-l is that?!?!?!? :)

Post 1

I've read from several sources that the cans are burned to remove the labels, but what affect does this process have on the environment?

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