The Presidential Policy Brief, published January 2021 by The Aluminum Association, outlines the benefits of Aluminum for the US economy. We’ve summarized this report for the high-volume, high-speed U.S. manufacturer.
The 21st-century lean manufacturer considers waste reduction a primary motive and takes into consideration the entire lifecycle of production materials.
Here are five reasons that aluminum is the leanest and greenest material on the planet.
1. Aluminum can be recycled infinitely without losing its purity.
Today, many U.S. waste management companies do not recycle glass jars or many types of plastic.
Why not glass? Glass is heavy to transport, which increases its carbon footprint and transit costs. Glass takes up to 1 million years to degrade in a landfill. Colored glass can only be recycled and melted down with like-colors, and broken glass creates hazards on the sorting conveyors. While glass is completely recyclable, it is easier and cheaper to crush the glass to be used as a landfill cover instead. Landfill covers are a mix of materials used to control the offensive smells landfills give off, deter pests, prevent waste fires, discourage scavenging, and limit rainwater runoff.
Why not plastic? From production to the end of life, plastics have a carbon-intense life cycle. According to a study published in the journal Science Advances in 2017, only 9% of all plastics ever made have been recycled. When recycled, plastic can only be downcycled, meaning it becomes an item of lesser quality like carpet fibers and plastic lining barriers for landfills. Plastic can take 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill, and it does not truly break down. Plastic decomposes into microplastics that pollute our waterways, soil, and air.
Aluminum cans are lighter, more space-efficient, and take less energy to chill. It is much easier to recycle aluminum than glass or plastic. That soda can you hold in your hand could eventually become a laptop or an airplane or automobile part. It will likely still be in use 500 years from now. The possibilities are endless and infinite.
2. Aluminum recycling saves around 95% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Creating new aluminum requires mining bauxite ore and is energy-intensive. Recycling scrap aluminum requires only 5% of the energy used to make new aluminum. It takes about twice as much energy to produce new aluminum as it does to produce new plastic.
Americans throw away more than $700 million worth of aluminum cans every year, but fortunately, almost 75% of aluminum is still in use today.
The process of recycling aluminum is extremely efficient. Companies like TOMRA have developed sensor-based systems for sorting and dividing aluminum to be recycled for the food, mining, transportation, defense, and other sectors. The video below shows TOMRA’s recycling sorting technology in action.
The Aluminum Association calls for an increase in national measures taken to promote aluminum recycling. Their report outlines three ways to drastically reduce our national carbon footprint:
- Federal investment to increase recycling rates
- Expansion of curbside recycling programs and collection points
- Improvement of recycled material quality through material segregation
Recycled aluminum is the greenest manufacturing material and increasing national measures to recycle aluminum is a top priority in carbon footprint reduction.
3. Since 1992, the aluminum industry has reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions by 62%.
The aluminum industry is innovative in finding ways to improve processes that reduce environmental impact. Through a voluntary partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the industry has targeted and reduced certain gas emissions by up to 85%.
Lean manufacturers of the aluminum industry have been successful at finding ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The demand for technology to improve the aluminum production and recycling processes creates high-paying and sustainable domestic manufacturing jobs in the aluminum industry and an innovative, competitive marketplace.
The aluminum industry employs more than 166,000 U.S. workers and indirectly supports an additional 494,000 workers.
The U.S. aluminum industry generates more than $70 billion in direct economic output. Aluminum is a unique and foundational element of American manufacturing, with growing demand driven by innovative applications that support aerospace, transportation, construction, defense, packaging, infrastructure, and many other segments of the U.S. economy.
5. Global demand for aluminum is expected to grow by more than 50% by 2050.
Aluminum is a lightweight, durable, and infinitely recyclable material. Consumer demand is increasing as an environmentally conscious choice for household goods. The Biden administration, Congress, and state governments have an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through research and investment in production, recycling, and use of aluminum.
Apple recently announced that its new iPads and Apple Watches would feature components fashioned from 100% recycled aluminum. Below is a video from Apple’s September 2019 event where they announce recycled aluminum as feature fashion component in Apple Watches and iPads.
In February, Ball Corporation and Budlight announced a partnership to bring aluminum cups to the Super Bowl. Ball, a leader in cutting-edge, sustainable aluminum beverage packaging, designed lightweight aluminum cups in response to growing consumer preference for more sustainable products. The new aluminum cups are being sold on Amazon, and consumers have been thrilled with this durable, lightweight, and environmentally-conscious alternative to plastic cups for entertainment events.
In conclusion, the aluminum industry will press on to find ways to reduce environmental impact in the production process, but it is just as important for the American consumer to become more disciplined at recycling and repurposing goods before they reach the landfill. Furthermore, the Aluminum Association has made recommendations to the Biden administration to improve aluminum recycling and environmental impact for manufacturers and consumers. To view the full report, click here.