Iron, steel, tin, copper and aluminium can all be recycled. The recovery of iron and steel has been carried out in the UK for more than a century and is still an important source of raw materials for steel making.
In 2000, the UK consumed 5 billion drinks from aluminium cans, of which about 42% were recycled. Cans for food and drink are made from aluminium or tin-plated steel. Any kind of can may be recycled. De-tinning salvages the tin lining which protects steel cans from rusting; aluminium and de-tinned steel can both be smelted for re-use. Steel cans can be extracted from household waste with a magnet. The cans then go directly to the steel plant for recycling.
The main problem in can-recycling is the quantity of cans needed to make a scheme viable. A collection scheme is operated by the Can-Makers Association and skips are usually placed on sites near supermarkets or in car parks.
Aluminium is a relatively new but rapidly increasing element of household waste. About 75% of the drinks cans we use are made entirely from aluminium. There is a constant demand for them since they can be recycled again and again.
Aluminium is one of the most expensive and potentially most polluting metals to produce. It is extracted from bauxite ore mined at the surface. The open-cast mines cover large areas from which the natural vegetation has to be removed. To extract the metal requires huge quantities of electricity, much of it coming from hydroelectric power stations. Dams are built across valleys and large areas inundated by the lakes that form behind them. While this form of power does not create the air pollution problems associated with electricity generated by fossil fuels, the construction work and lakes upset the local ecology. In the process of extracting the metal, fluorides can be emitted into the atmosphere. These damage the health of workers and plants and animals near the smelter. Aware of the damage that can be done to the environment, the industry has gone to great lengths to reduce its impact. The land at the mine is restored and re-vegetated once it is no longer needed. The amount of energy needed to smelt a tonne of ore has been reduced by 40% over the past 40 years and the amount of fluoride getting into the atmosphere has been reduced to very low levels.
Melting down an aluminium can for re-use requires just 5% of the energy needed to make a new can and it creates little pollution. The quality of the recycled aluminium is just as good as the primary metal, so cans can be recycled again and again. Every can that is thrown away is a lost opportunity to save energy and preserve the environment.
Charities often raise funds by collecting and recycling crushed cans. Some cans have a symbol on the side identifying them as aluminium. If not, use a magnet to test the side of the can (some steel cans have an aluminium top and bottom). If it is not magnetic then it is made of aluminium. Put the ring pull inside the can and then crush the can and store it for collection.Read More: Recycling Paper