Scrap aluminum prices vary depending on the grade and quality of material and the current market conditions. The current price in the United States is set by the COMEX otherwise known as Commodity Exchange. Scrap aluminum prices reached a high in the mid 2000ís, with the economic downturn and changes in buying behavior in the international market, prices of scrap aluminum have come down to the current level, some of which are 50% less than prices of two years ago. However, industry experts are optimistic that scrap aluminum prices will rise again as environmental concerns and manufacturing needs drive up the demand for recycled aluminum domestically and internationally.
Aluminum recycling developed into a large
industry during the past few decades. There are now over 10,000 recycling
centers in the U.S., and as awareness of the benefits of recycling aluminum
grows in the public and industrial sectors, and more efficient and
specialized processing techniques develop, the industry will continue to
Recycling is the perfect use for aluminum because it can be reprocessed and used again and again. It does not lose its structural qualities when reprocessed, and will not decompose for about 400 years. Also, it is exceedingly cost effective: it takes only 5 percent of the energy required to make new aluminum from mined bauxite, and needs only about 10 percent of the capital equipment for producing primary aluminum.
Recycling begins when consumers place used aluminum products at the curbside or community drop-off center for pickup by a recycling company. These companies will also collect scrap aluminum from businesses and industrial plants. The scraps are taken to a material recovery facility where the aluminum is separated from foreign substances to generate high quality scrap. This is then baled and sold to brokers or can sheet manufacturers. The latter will refine the scrap aluminum and melt them into ingots, then reproduce this to can sheets and to manufacture new cans. There are also secondary producers of foundry ingot, scrap ingot, billet, and process dross. Some companies will produce specification aluminum alloy which have specific chemical compositions for an intended use by a customer.
What makes aluminum a versatile metal suitable for multiple uses is its light weight, malleability, ductility, and corrosion resistance. When alloyed with small amounts of copper, manganese, magnesium, silicon, or zinc, its strength and usability is multiplied. Several hundred alloys are made today, each meeting exact specifications for a particular use. There are two basic forms of alloys, wrought and cast, which the Aluminum Association classifies in two different ways. Wrought alloys are given four-digit numbers with the first digit specifying the metal added, the second indicating a modification of the specific alloy, and the third and fourth digits numbering the alloys in the series. Cast alloys have three digits plus one decimal place, the first showing the principal alloying element, the second and third identifying the specific alloy in the series, and the decimal place number showing whether the alloy is a casting or an ingot.
The eight classes of wrought alloys with 1 to 8 as the first digit are: 1 - pure aluminum; 2 -copper; 3 - manganese; 4 - silicon; 5 - magnesium; 6 - magnesium and silicon; 7 - zinc, and 8 - other metals, primarily lithium. The first digit of the nine alloy series of cast aluminum indicate the following: 1 - pure aluminum; 2 - copper; 3 - silicon plus copper and/or magnesium; 4 - silicon; 5 - magnesium; 6 - unused series; 7 - zinc; 8 - tin; and 9 - other elements. In addition to composition, wrought alloys are designated as heat treatable, and non-heat treatable.
Aluminum alloys are commonly used in the packaging industry, most frequently as beverage cans but including bottle caps, foil containers and wrappers. They are also used to make home products such as kitchen utensils and furniture. Their use in the automobile industry have been primarily for diecasts, but as refining processes are developed to produce wrought alloys of higher quality, their use will expand to hoods, fenders, door panels, and other chassis parts. In the aviation industry, wrought aluminum alloys are used widely because of their strength, light weight, corrosion resistance and ease of fabrication. Bicycles and other recreational vehicles use aluminum alloys for the same reasons. For their excellent conductivity and light weight, aluminum alloys are used in electrical transmission lines, and for various purposes in the construction industry. They are an excellent material for making machinery and equipment. Finally, exports take up a growing proportion of recycled aluminum.
Recycling scrap aluminum, as well as other wastes, brings both economic and environmental benefits. There is the 95% savings in energy by recycling rather than producing new aluminum. Communities that recycle reduce their waste disposal expenses. Charitable organizations can raise money by selling scrap aluminum, thereby bringing more social benefits to the community. Finally, keeping wastes from landfills helps the environment.