Wednesday, 26 September 2012

You've drunk from this can before

 Aluminium recycling has many advantages for the environment, in reducing the need for mining (see and waste disposal. Aluminium is found in all sorts of things, but because of their rapid turnover and ease of handling, recycling normally means drinks cans. Of course, for it to be meaningful recycling has to be done on a large scale. A very large scale.

In 2009, according to the Associação Brasileira do Alumínio, Brazil recycled 98,800 tonnes of cans for their aluminium content, that's about 14 billion units. Much of this recycling is done at the Novelis plant in Pindamonhangaba (owned by the Indian Adytia Birla company), conveniently located on the main road between the two largest cities in Latin America, Sao Paulo and Rio.

What's driving all this is simple economics. Brazil produces aluminium ore (bauxite), in fact Brazilian production is 3rd in the world (28,000 tons in 2009) behind Australia and China. But actually getting the aluminium out of the ore is a complicated and energy intensive process, whilst recycling of aluminium cans involves, more or less, just melting them. Well, there is of course more to it than that, but still the process uses about 5% of the energy needed to produce "fresh" aluminium, with equivalent savings in production costs.

You still need a raw material. Brazil has the highest can recovery rate in the world at 85%, ahead of even Japan at 82.5%. This in turn is helped by low labour costs. Many of these cans are separated by hand, either at waste disposal sites or directly from bins, and men pulling carts of crushed cans are not uncommon. The Inter Press news agency quoted a can collector in Rio in 2010 who collected 15 kilograms of aluminium cans a day, selling them to the collection center for about 30 reals (17 dollars at the time). This isn´t much, but supports many thousands of people around the country. Even then, supply cannot meet demand. Every day trucks arrive at Pindamonhangaba loaded with crushed cans from all over South America, and the world. Over 42,000 tonnes were imported last year, from countries as far afield as Albania and Saudi Arabia.

So, for recycling to really work it has to make, not lose, money, which pays for the infrastructure. The difference in cost between recycled and ore-derived aluminium ensures that, in this case, can collection is well worth the effort.

Inter Press news agency.

Globo News Brasil


Anonymous said...

Very good for Brazil!

Jay Katari said...

I like your blog post. Keep on writing this type of great stuff. I'll make sure to follow up on your blog in the future.
Jay Katari


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