Metal, generally, divides into two categories: aluminium and steel.
Nowadays, lots of foods and liquids (such as tuna, beans, corn, and soft drinks) are contained in cans. Depending on the content, the can is most commonly made of steel or aluminium.
An aluminium can will resist up to 90 pounds of pressure per square inch and shows no magnetic properties. Steel is commonly attracted to magnets because it’s an alloy of iron and carbon (though it can contain other elements, as well).
As junk removal professionals, at Rubbish Please we know that millions of steel-based cans are separated from other waste using large, industrial magnets. Even though steel is an alloy, for simplicity in this guide we will regard it as a metal.
How to Recycle Metal at Home
We, as individuals, are an integral part of the entire recycling process. It begins at our homes and ends at recycling plants and centres.
To do it right, there are certain steps we need to take. Even though they may sound intuitive enough, it’s a good idea to have them summarised just to make sure we don’t miss something.
Here’s how to recycle metal at home:
- Contact your local recycling facility. Some centres are more particular about the metals they take and the shape they are supposed to be in. If your nearest centre has more specific conditions, it’s a good idea to know about it in order to ensure you’re not wasting your time
- Separate steel from aluminium containers. Because of the different molecular structure, aluminium and steel have different processing procedures. For this reason they are supposed to be separate. Some recycling facilities separate them using industrial magnets, but it would really accelerate the whole process if you separate them at home. Besides, some facilities don’t accept them if they are not separate, anyway.
- Remove all non-recyclable fragments. This refers to plastic caps, wrappers, labels, and anything else that is not metal (different rules apply to aerosol cans; see below).
- Rinse the containers well. Whether we’re talking about steel food cans or aluminium beverage cans, give them a quick rinse before you deposit them for recycling. You don’t need to wash them spotless. Be careful not to cut yourself while operating them. This is a common mistake!
- Empty up aerosol cans. You can recycle aerosol cans, but you need to ensure that they are empty. Once that’s done, remove the cap, but do not remove the spray nozzle. Even when they are empty, aerosol cans can be dangerous due to the pressure inside. After emptying it, proceed to placing it with the steel or aluminium containers, depending on the material it’s made of.
- Gather bottle and jar caps made of the same material. Group bottle and jar caps together by material. Gather them in bags that won’t be easily cut.
- Recycle non-food cans (such as paint cans). Simply make sure that they are made from a recyclable material and empty them completely. Rinse them well and let them dry. Check with your local recycling centre if they will accept them (most facilities do).
- Deposit everything in a recycling bank or bring it to the recycling centre. Once you’ve done all of that, simply deposit the materials in a recycling bank or leave it in the kerbside box or bin. Alternatively, you can bring it to the centre, yourself. That’s it!
How Is It Recycled?
- When aluminium cans enter a recycling facility they’re sorted, shredded into small pieces, and then decoloured. These pieces are shaped into blocks, and put into a large furnace where they’re melted.
- Next, chemicals are added into the now molten metal to improve its quality. Once that’s done the metal is poured into moulds and cooled by a curtain of water.
- Finally, it’s rolled onto very thin sheets. It takes about seven weeks from the time an aluminium can is recycled to when it’s back on a store’s shelf.
Steel cans don’t need to be shredded after they arrive at a recycling plant – they’ll be taken straight to a furnace.
After molten iron has been added, a shock wave of oxygen heats the furnace up to 1700C.
Finally, the liquid metal is poured into slab shaped moulds which are then rolled into coils.
These coils can be transformed into a wide range of products including bicycle frames and pipes.
Did You Know
- It takes 400 years for an aluminium can to decompose. However, it can be recycled over and over again without the quality of the material ever being affected.
- A TV can be powered for up to three hours by the same amount of energy saved from recycling a single aluminium can.
- On average, approximately 80,000,000,000 aluminium cans are used per year.
- There was a period in time when aluminium was more valuable than gold.
- The energy saved from recycling one pound of steel is enough to run a 60-watt light bulb for more than a day.
- Steel can be recycled over and over again without ever losing any quality or strength.
The Environmental Impact of Recycling Metal
The world’s primary source of aluminium is an ore called bauxite which contains the compound alumina. To get two tons of alumina you would have to mine four tons of bauxite, and those two tons will only produce a single ton of aluminium.
The material makes up a significant part of the earth’s crust – nearly one tenth!
After the bauxite has been mined, an energy-intensive electrolytic process is used to extract the alumina. We use the metal for a wide range of purposes such as the construction of buildings, and manufacture of cars.
Take note that if one pound of aluminium recycled saves up to 14kWh of electricity, and six pounds of Bauxite. In addition, less chemicals would be used.
The whole production process of aluminium can be seen here.
Iron ore, limestone, and coal are used to create steel. While iron ore is common, limestone and steel aren’t. Unfortunately, the mining of these raw materials as well as the production process has a negative impact on the environment. During production a great deal of energy is consumed, a large amount of material is wasted, and greenhouse gases are emitted. However, steel can be recycled indefinitely and its quality will never be affected.
The positive environmental effects of recycling steel include:
- The conservation of non-renewable fossil fuels
- A reduction in the amount of raw materials wasted during the production process
- A reduction in energy consumption
- A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
Problems and issues
Both aluminium and steel are easy to recycle, but many cans are still taken to landfills. Therefore, we must continue to raise awareness of this issue and recycle as many cans as possible. For instance, if you’re away from home and can’t find a recycling bin, simply take it home with you. You can reduce the amount of raw materials needed to create new products today!
Q: What happens to steel cans once they’ve been recycled?
A: The resulting material is used in the production of food cans and other products.
Q: Do refuse collectors accept aluminium foil?
A: It depends on where you live. Like aluminium cans, foil is also recyclable but some collectors are not equipped to deal with it. Moreover, it’s likely that the foil will have been contaminated by food. As a result it can’t be recycled.