The aluminium can recycling loop

Every year nearly 10 billion aluminium drink cans are sold in the UK. Each one can be recycled to make another drink can, over and over again. This is called ‘closed loop’ recycling. Recycling aluminium cans saves energy and natural resources, and reduces pressure on landfill sites for waste disposal.

Here’s how it works…

aluminium recycling process loop

1 . Recycling – it’s easy!

You can recycle your cans in a number of ways:

Can banks – find them at supermarkets and council-run recycling sites. Look out for recycling banks in offices, shopping centres and leisure facilities too.

Kerbside recycling – use the doorstep collections offered by your council.

Cash from cans – exchange your cans to raise funds for a good cause.

Once collected the cans are sorted, checked for contaminants and baled. They are then delivered to the Novelis plant in Warrington. This is part of Novelis’ dedicated European aluminium can recycling infrastructure.

2. Reprocessing

The bales of cans are broken up and shredded into small pieces, about the size of a 50p coin. Hot air (approx. 500°C) is blown through the shreds to remove the printed decoration. The clean shreds are then melted in a furnace heated to 750°C.

The molten metal flows into a deep pit where the casting process takes place. Cooled by direct contact with a curtain of water, the metal then solidifies and an ingot is formed.

3. Rolling

The ingots are transported to the rolling mill where they are pre-heated to 600°C and undergo their first ‘hot rolling’.

They are then ‘cold rolled’ to the exact thickness required by the can maker.

4. Can Making

The recycled aluminium sheet is fed through a ‘cupping press’ which stamps out thousands of shallow cups. The can shape is created by ramming the cups through a series of smaller and smaller rings at high pressure.

They are then trimmed and washed ready to be printed. After the decoration has been applied, the cans are dried and passed through a necker/flanger to prepare them to take the can end.

5. Filling

The cans are cleaned using high pressure air and water. The air is extracted and at the same time the can is filled with carbon dioxide (CO2) and the liquid contents.

The can ends are mechanically attached and sealed. Around 2,000 cans are produced and filled by this process every minute.

6. Selling

The final stage of the loop – or is it the beginning? The cans are delivered to the retailer ready for you to buy, drink and recycle all over again.