What happens to cans?

Make a resolution this year to recycle all of your beverage cans. By putting your beverage cans into the recycling cart, you give them new life. Aluminum can be recycled repeatedly without any loss of its original properties. So the soda can you drop into the recycling cart today may become a new can, an electrical cable, or even a bicycle tomorrow.

Over 75% of the 800 million metric tons of aluminum manufactured since production began in the 1800s is still in circulation. About 32% of it is contained in aluminum siding, gutters, and other construction materials, about 28% can be found in machinery, and another 28% is used in transportation products, such as airplanes, automobiles, boats, ships, and trains. The Ford F-150 light truck now has an all-aluminum body and many luxury cars use aluminum in both the frame and body thanks to its strength and environmental advantages.

While aluminum ends up in all of these products, let’s trace back the path of an aluminum beverage can. Ultimately, cans are recycled and returned to store shelves as new cans in as few as 60 days, which means you could purchase separate cans made from the same recycled aluminum six times per year!

First, aluminum beverage cans are collected curbside from homes, as well as from recycling bins in workplaces, schools, and public spaces. They are also collected at recycling drop-off centers and scrap metal yards.

After collection, cans are separated from other recyclables at a material recovery facility (MRF). As material moves along the conveyor belt at the MRF, aluminum cans are pushed away by a reverse magnet called an eddy current, which sends the cans into a holding bin. The cans are then crushed, baled, and shipped to a processor.

At the processing center, bales are broken down and the crushed cans are shredded into pieces about the size of a walnut. The shreds, which move along another conveyor belt, are screened to remove any non-aluminum materials and then passed through hot air to remove paint. The aluminum shreds are fed into a furnace where they are converted into molten metal and poured into a mold. Once cooled, this new ingot of aluminum weighs 36,000 pounds. It takes 1.5 million cans to produce each ingot!

The ingot of aluminum is heated just enough so it can be flattened and rolled into a coil. The finished coil is approximately 9 miles in length! Coiled aluminum is then shipped to can manufacturers who use this coil to make new cans and lids.

Finally, those cans are filled and returned to store shelves, where the process begins again.

Photo credit: scanrail | iStock | Getty Images Plus

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