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In a bid to get a better understanding of the life cycle of an aluminium beverage can, Ingrid Brough-Williams, J&B Recycling’s newly appointed Marketing Manager, joined Clare Bradley, our Material Sales & Compliance Administrator, on her recent visit to the Novelis aluminium processing plant in Warrington. Her mission was simple: to discover first-hand what happens to aluminium cans once they depart our facility in Hartlepool.
"J&B Recycling handles vast amounts of recyclable materials daily. Aluminium, with its outstanding recyclability, is among the key materials processed at our MRF. It stands out to me as a truly beautiful material – I often think the finished bales could be works of art, especially when they sparkle in the sunlight. Before my visit to Novelis, I knew that once sorted, the aluminium is purchased by industry-leading processors, such as Novelis, and it is melted and cast into blocks that are used to make new aluminium cans. But I have found, following visits to other re-processors, that what sounds relatively simple in the waste management industry, is often a much more complex and spectacular process. So, I asked if I could join Clare on her visit to Novelis, the world’s largest recycler of aluminium and producer of flat-rolled aluminium product, with whom J&B Recycling have a long-standing relationship."
"Upon arrival at Novelis, we received a warm welcome from Josh and Robbie. They gave us a good overview of the process, and explained what happens to the material after it leaves their facility. What has become apparent on our visits to re-processors, is that J&B Recycling are just a small, albeit important, cog in a very large wheel when it comes to recycling. What I envisaged as being a visit to an ‘end-reprocessor’, was in fact the discovery of another vital cog in this wheel that keeps the worlds resources moving in an infinite loop of circularity.
"After our fascinating presentation, David Newall, Metal Procurement Lead, took us for a comprehensive tour of the facility. The enormity of the operations and the intricacies involved in aluminium recycling left us both astounded.
"Aluminium, due to its inherent properties, can be recycled indefinitely without losing quality. Novelis, harnessing this property, has developed an intricate process ensuring that every piece of aluminium they receive gets a new lease on life."
"Novelis recycle a staggering 82+ billion beverage cans each year! After the initial sorting, the aluminium undergoes a series of processes, including shredding, de-coating, melting, and casting. These processes ensure that any impurities or contaminants are effectively removed, rendering the aluminium as good as new.
"I have often wondered what the impact of contamination is on metal re-processing. Well, I discovered the answer! It is important that the vast furnaces that melt the aluminium remain at a relatively consistent temperature throughout the process. When contaminates, such as plastic, enter the furnace, they can increase the temperature and cause severe damage to the huge, expensive pieces of equipment. Temperatures are monitored constantly, but as manufacturers make increasingly complex products that incorporate a range of materials, such as aluminium, plastic and cardboard, it is a persistent problem that seems unlikely to go away any time soon. This is why companies, like Novelis, look to source their materials from high performing Material Recycling Facilities (MRF’s), who focus on optimising recycling rates and decreasing contamination, such as ours.
"After the aluminium has been melted, it is cast – deep down in the ground – into HUGE ingots, which are shipped to Novelis’ operation in Germany, where they are finally repurposed into aluminium drink cans. I was amazed to hear that aluminium cans can be recycled, remade, refilled and returned to the supermarket shelf in as little as 60 days! This cyclical journey of aluminium, from consumers to recyclers and back to consumers, highlights the essence of a circular economy.
"One of the most eye-opening revelations about the visit was learning about the vast energy savings associated with recycling aluminium. I was surprised to hear that, even with an overseas trip Germany, compared to producing new aluminium from raw bauxite ore, recycling existing aluminium uses just five percent of the energy and emits only five percent of the greenhouse gases. This staggering difference underscores the importance of recycling and the role facilities like J&B Recycling and Novellis play in the larger environmental picture."
"I returned to J&B Recycling with a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper appreciation for the aluminium recycling chain. Our visit reinforced the significance of partnerships between our operation and high quality re-processors, who share our values and environmental focus. Seeing the end-to-end journey of aluminium, from our MRF to a global facility like Novelis, reminds me of the interconnectivity in our industry and the shared responsibility we hold in championing sustainability. The visit wasn't just about understanding aluminium's journey but also about strengthening collaborative ties and ensuring that every piece of aluminium passing through their doors is given the best possible chance for a sustainable future."
If you would like to speak to us about recycling aluminium, please don't hesitate to get in touch.
J&B Recycling are based in the North of England. Our commercial collection services operate from the Scottish Borders down to Hull and North Yorkshire. Our main areas for collecting and processing commercial waste include Teesside (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton), Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland.