Sustainability Measures and Government Regulations to Bolster Aluminium Recycling

Published on 16 Sep, 2020

Better recyclability and lower energy consumption have driven the adoption of recycled aluminum over past decade. However practical challenges with the collection mechanism, coupled with resistance from primary aluminum producers have relatively slowed down the rate of growth in demand. Going ahead, a favorable regulatory environment and on-going work on developing closed loop ecosystems are expected to help the recycled aluminum industry tide over the challenges.

Higher energy savings, better recyclability make aluminum preferred metal for reuse
According to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), steel, aluminum, copper, silver, brass, and gold are the most recycled metals. However, aluminum trumps the others as it can be re-melted several times, without any significant loss in quality, due to its physical and chemical properties.

The recycling of aluminum, or secondary aluminum production, is encouraged as it offers benefits such as preservation of natural resources (bauxite ore), energy savings of over 90%, and limited greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (5–8%), compared to primary aluminum production. Owing to its high recyclability, aluminum is therefore considered an ideal material for the circular economy.


Gross Energy Required (MJ/Kg)

Global Warming Potential (Kg CO2)

Energy Saved Via Recycling (%)

















Source: Innoval Technology

Over time, the share of recycled aluminum in overall aluminum production has grown steadily, currently accounting for 20–25% of the global production. Countries like Switzerland, Norway, Finland, and Germany recycle over 90% of their aluminum beverage cans. Besides beverage containers, aluminum from automobiles, construction material, airplanes, and other industrial products can also be recycled.

Chart 1: Global Aluminum Production
(‘000 Metric Tonnes)

Chart 2: Share of Primary and Recycled
Aluminum (%)

Source: International Aluminum Institute, Aranca Analysis

Growing end-use demand and the paucity of primary aluminum production have urged countries to maximize their collection of aluminum scrap and develop resource-efficient scrap treatment and melting processes. The mature markets of Europe, North America, and Japan show a high rate of adoption of recycled aluminum due to their robust recycling networks, which ensure effective scrap collection and secondary production. The use of recycled aluminum is also supported by an established market that offers favorable prices for it and develops applications from this secondary production such as automobile parts, building materials, and food & beverage cans.

Increasing adoption across key end-use sectors drives demand for recycled aluminum
Construction: With the adoption of green building standards on the rise, builders and architects are encouraged to deploy materials that leave minimal impact on the environment. This initiative has spurred the demand for recycled aluminum in the construction industry. Castings from recycled aluminum are thus primarily used in window frames, roofing, siding, staircases, curtain walling, catches for windows, air-conditioning systems, door handles, and heating elements.

Automotive: As OEMs attempt to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles through automotive light weighting, aluminum helps by enabling weight savings of up to 50% versus other materials. In addition to automotive light weighting, several companies are working to minimize their carbon footprint by including closed-loop recycling in their production cycles. Thus, recycled aluminum largely finds application in castings for cylinder heads, engine blocks, gearboxes, etc. Furthermore, megatrends in the automotive industry such as e-mobility and additive manufacturing are expected to spur the demand for recycled aluminum.

Foods and Beverages: Recycled aluminum is used to manufacture cans for foods and beverages. The cans are collected from bins along with other metals, re-treated, and processed to produce new aluminum cans. The practice is also common in the food packaging industry, for example, in applications like food-wrapping foil.

Challenges persist in rapid/complete move to secondary aluminum
Cost-effective collection and sorting: The automating and optimizing of pre-sorting, shredding, and separation technologies and making these processes broadly available remain key challenges in the recycling industry. Although there have been developments in sorting technology for the industrial separation of aluminum alloys, a cost-effective solution to process the various grades and alloys of aluminum scrap remains a challenge for the recycling industry.

Difficulties in implementing regulations: The secondary aluminum industry is mainly hindered by resistance from the primary aluminum producers’ lobby as imports of cheap, secondary aluminum impacts the sales and margins of the domestic primary aluminum players. Meanwhile, secondary aluminum producers are urging governments to rationalize import tariffs as higher duty would raise their cost of production. Thus, steps need to be taken by the government to beat the differences in the duties levied.

Increased focus on sustainability, support from government regulations expected to accelerate adoption of recycled aluminum in long run
Although the issues of sustainability may take a backseat in the short term due to the pandemic, with the recovery of the global economy, these would resurface and influence consumer expectations and preferences in the long term. The first among industries to be affected would be packaging. A surge in the anti-plastic trend would drive up the demand for aluminum packaging.

As packaging companies, especially in the developed markets of Europe and North America, continue with closed-loop recycling, the demand for recycled aluminum is expected to increase rapidly. Global brands such as Coca Cola and PepsiCo have shown their intent to cut down on plastic waste, with plans underway to introduce new aluminum packaging as an alternative. Technology company Apple plans to launch upcoming iPads and Apple watches made of 100% recycled aluminum. Moreover, as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, end-use applications, especially the automotive and construction industries, are expected to add to the overall demand for recycled aluminum.

Moving ahead, these developments in aluminum recycling should be well supported by government regulations such as container-deposit legislation and others to encourage and ensure effective scrap collection. Additionally, technological advancements in sorting the grades of aluminum scrap and developing energy-efficient furnaces would maximize the efficiency of the aluminum recycling industry.