Closing the Material Loop
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, making it the sustainable choice in many of the markets we serve and a critical component of a circular economy.
Approximately 75% of all primary aluminum ever produced since 1888 is still in productive use due to its strength, product life, and recyclability. Recycling aluminum only uses about 8% of the energy required to make new aluminum ingot and emits 92% less greenhouse gases.
Aluminum used in the transportation, building and construction, and lithographic markets is recycled at rates near or above 90%, while the global recycling rate for aluminum cans is 71%. We connect with both customers and consumers to increase the amount of aluminum that is recycled globally.
As we continue to grow beyond aluminum to offer our customers lightweight, multi-material solutions, we also will develop and implement processes to return valuable metals to the industrial ecosystem at the end of a product’s useful life. This will preserve material value and keep waste to an absolute minimum.
Our breakthrough Alcoa 951 bonding technology is enabling more cost-effective mass production of aluminum-intensive vehicles, helping the automotive industry meet challenging emissions standards through lightweighting while preserving and improving the strength and performance requirements of the materials.
As the volume of aluminum automotive sheet in the market increases, we are developing programs to bring like-alloy aluminum scrap back to our facility for reprocessing into new auto sheet.
One of the closed-loop systems we have established with automakers is for the new aluminum-intensive Ford F-150 truck. Recognizing the value of segregated scrap, Ford separates the aluminum by alloy type at its production facility and ships it to our Tennessee Operations in the United States, where it is melted and cast into ingots. The ingots are then shipped to our Davenport, Iowa, USA, facility to be rolled into new military-grade auto sheet that is shipped back to Ford. For each step, the material is shipped on a customized universal trailer that we designed in collaboration with Ford and another aluminum supplier. This unique scrap sorting and logistics collaboration is saving natural resources, energy, and money.
In addition to Ford, we work with all of our other automotive customers to reinforce the value of segregated aluminum scrap in closed-loop buy-back agreements.
We developed an aerospace recycling model in 2014 to overcome logistics barriers to establishing closed-loop systems with customers like Boeing. Creative solutions to segregate and return scrap to our facility in Lafayette, Indiana, USA, enable us to recycle thousands of metric tons of valuable alloys back into new aerospace products.
We are also an active member of the Aircraft Fleet Recyclers Association, which is a recognized industry leader dedicated to pursuing and promoting environmental best practices, regulatory excellence, and sustainable developments in aircraft disassembly and recycling.
In 2014, we built a second recycling facility that uses Hertwich furnace technology to recycle aluminum wheel scrap into billet for new wheels. This facility in Monterrey, Mexico, expands upon our investment in wheel-recycling capacity at our Barberton, Ohio, USA, plant. In addition to scrap generated in the wheel-making process, we use post-consumer wheels from buy-back programs we have established with customers.
We recycle billions of aluminum cans annually at our Tennessee Operations in the United States, which is the largest can reclamation facility in the Americas. We use this recycled metal to make new can sheet—which is Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM—that our customers convert into beverage cans.
Ma’aden Aluminium, the Ma’aden-Alcoa joint venture in Saudi Arabia, opened a state-of-the-art can recycling facility in late 2014 that will serve the Middle East and North Africa and have the capacity to recycle 120,000 metric tons of primarily used beverage cans each year. The joint venture will be supporting consumer and customer education and outreach to help develop recycling in this important and growing market for aluminum packaging.
Throughout the world, we are actively involved in increasing consumer awareness to boost the recycling rate of aluminum cans.
In 2014, Alcoa Foundation became the first committed funding partner of The Recycling Partnership (TRP), a new public/private partnership to increase packaging recycling rates in the United States. Four inaugural cities began expanding their recycling in early 2015 due to TRP grants and assistance, with additional partners at the state level expected to follow.
Globally, Alcoa Foundation and Alcoa invested approximately US$6.5 million in recycling initiatives between 2007 and 2014, with many focused on boosting the U.S. can recycling rate of 67%. These included the following in 2014:
- Support for Keep America Beautiful’s “I want to be recycled” television and radio campaign with the AdCouncil, as well as ongoing support for the RecycleMania college recycling competition that resulted in the recycling and composting of 38.8 million kilograms (85.6 million pounds) of waste;
- Sponsorship of the College and University Recycling Coalition webinar series;
- Expansion of an existing partnership to place BigBelly Solar public recycling bins in additional cities;
- Partnership with the Environmental Management Cadre College of China to pilot the installation of waste-separation bins in five communities and two schools;
- Co-sponsorship of the Recycling Innovators Forum to drive advancement in recycling technology;
- Support of grassroots recycling programs through a grant to the Oskar Blues’ Can’d Aid Foundation; and
- Through a grant to Curbside Value Partnership, sponsorship of public education in Memphis, Tennessee, USA, to support the city’s new recycleMemphis curbside recycling program.
We also served as the 2014 board chair of the Curbside Value Partnership and a board member of the Southeast Recycling Development Council in the United States.
Process Waste Recycling and Reuse
In addition to recycling products made of aluminum, we actively seek to recycle or reuse our process wastes.
For example, we are a leader in finding ways to transform spent pot lining—the carbon and refractory lining of smelting pots that has reached the end of its serviceable life—into a raw material or fuel source for other industries. (See the Emissions & Waste section.)
Another of our many recycling successes is found within our Alcoa Power and Propulsion (APP) business, which is the second largest user of x-ray film in the world due to its x-ray inspection of every component it produces. Through a partnership with a network of film recyclers, APP recovered 67 metric tons of silver from used x-ray film in 2014, netting more than US$3 million. A future shift to digital imaging will ultimately enable us to eliminate the use of silver altogether.
All of APP’s nickel and other precious alloying metals are also routinely recycled internally or with third parties at levels approaching 100%. At APP casting locations producing ceramic shells, beneficial reuse rates for spent shells have reached more than 80% overall, with three locations achieving 100%.