Aluminum: Surprisingly Sustainable

Aluminum is actually one of the most recycled and recyclable materials available. According to the Aluminum Association, almost 75% of all the aluminum ever made is still being used today! Its many useful properties, including being lightweight and corrosion-resistant, make it great for all sorts of applications. The benefits of aluminum combined with the difficulty in creating it from scratch drove the development of our current robust aluminum recycling systems!

Before the discoveries of the Héroult/Hall electrolysis process and Bayer's refining method using bauxite ore, aluminum was considered a precious metal and was very valuable- even more than gold!

Photos of Heroult, Hall, and Bayer

The current method of making virgin aluminum is to refine it out of bauxite ore extracted from open-pit mines in places like Australia, Guinea, and Brazil.

Bauxite ore and an open-pit mine

The efficiency of recycling scrap aluminum means it takes only 5% of the energy needed to produce virgin aluminum. This 95% energy savings is great for both manufacturer's budgets and the planet- the more cost-effective recycled aluminum is, the more demand there will be for increased recycling.

Aluminum take-out pans, cans, and foil

In contrast to aluminum's 75% recycled rate, a study published in Science Advances in 2017 indicates that only 9% of plastics ever made have been recycled. Aluminum can also be recycled indefinitely. The majority of plastics can only be recycled a handful of times, and many of them only once!

Compress Aluminum cans for recycling compared to plastic bottles on a beach

How is aluminum recycled?

1. It is shredded into chips and sent through an infrared sorter to catch and remove anything that doesn't belong, such as plastic and glass. A magnet also checks for scraps of steel.

Shredded aluminum

2. The scrap aluminum chips are melted down (1,221°F!) and poured molds to form ingots. These ingots can be huge, weighing up to 29.8 tons each (or 1.5 million aluminum cans)!

Aluminum melting furnace and ingots

3. Ingots aren't always the most convenient form to give to manufacturers for reuse, so commonly a series of rollers is used to progressively squeeze the ingots down into sheets about .01" thick.

Aluminum roller table and coils

The ingot sheets are then rolled up into coils and ready to be used again!

How recyclable is SelectSpace?

SelectSpace Partitions are almost entirely aluminum! All the panels, stand bodies, and planter stand bodies are aluminum (the stand and planter stand bases are stainless steel).

Example showing how SelectSpace is made mostly of aluminum

This means once you are done with your partitions, they can be easily recycled and the metals reused. The stainless steel is also just as recyclable- steel is the most recycled material on the planet!

How can I make sure my metal is recycled?

For larger metal scrap (like SelectSpace), it's a good idea to contact a scrap/recycling company and arrange a drop-off or pick-up. Municipal garbage services may also accept the scrap, but usually only by special arrangement. Using a dedicated company or service ensures your scrap doesn't end up in a landfill by mistake!

Scrap Metal piles

Aluminum is considered a 'green' material and its closed-loop recyclability makes it a great choice for sustainable products and design. It's great to know that once SelectSpace and other aluminum products have reached the end of their life-span they won't just be dumped in a landfill. They could come back as food packaging, automobile parts, medical equipment, construction materials or thousands of other products used every day across the world!

Have any questions about SelectSpace, our materials, or how to recycle? Contact us now!

Or browse our gallery for outdoor seating inspiration!


Sources:

https://www.rubicon.com/blog/aluminum-recycling/

https://www.aluminum.org/industries/production/recycling

https://www.aluminum.org/aluminum-sustainability

https://www.theverge.com/2019/9/12/20862775/aluminum-recycling-water-tech-plastic-manufacturing-cocacola-pepsi-apple

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/bauxite

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