What aluminium recycling excellence looks like in reality

Last year, our aluminium recycling processes saw us being shortlisted in the prestigious National Recycling Awards, further reinforcing our industry-leading capabilities.

We were finalists in two categories, which included the esteemed Recycling Excellence group. The shortlisting is testimony to our commitment to continuously pushing the aluminium recycling boundaries and improving recycling rates and resource efficiency.

Working with Blue Chip and multinational companies to plug the hole in the circular recycling system for thermal break material is something we are particularly proud of.

Thermal break, which is used in the production of windows, patios and curtain walling, contains a plastic strip that is designed to prevent condensation from forming. Historically, this material has been exported to countries with less exacting environmental policies to be recycled. However, we saw the potential to alleviate this problem by implementing a sustainable solution.

Our aim is to retain as much thermal break in the UK as possible

We also want to keep it at a much higher-graded commodity instead of downgrading it and exporting it out of the UK. For every tonne of thermal break product we produce, we are currently saving 1.633 tonnes of carbon and proactively reducing our carbon footprint.

And by investing in an electrically-powered shear machine, we have increased our productivity and capacity levels. Prior to this, we had to make three passes through a mill to transform the material into shredder-ready waste. Now, it only has to go through the machine once. This has enabled us to maximise our throughput by 60%, free up our on-site skips even faster and maintain our 48-hour window for customer collections.

We are masters at overcoming everyday aluminium recycling challenges with ease 

This includes eradicating the plastic content from within the materials we handle, which gives off toxic fumes and plumes of black smoke during the smelting process.

How we tackled this particular challenge:

We changed the shredding and preparation of the material. We now operate a double shredding process, which means the materials are fractured, the waste and plastics are then cut away, and the residue material is then laid on to a fine screen for further separation via x-ray technology.

This enhanced screening process also enables us to divert the product to individual x-ray machines, which have their own settings, and extract brass, copper and zinc from the aluminium fraction. In turn, this means we can work to a margin of 0.03% for zinc and share a higher percentage of aluminium with UK remelts. 

We have successfully closed the aluminium recycling loop 

The aluminium circular economy comprises remelts, extruders, systems providers and fabricators, with the material entering demolition before being delivered to us for recycling.

We are the first organisation to transform old windows from demolition sites into a post-consumer product that is furness-ready and in a state to go straight into remelting.

A case in point:

We have partnered with McLaren Construction, who are the first UK contractor to deliver closed loop window recycling at scale in London.

During 2023 alone, we collected in the region of 75 tonnes of aluminium from various sites, which equated to eliminating approximately 122 tonnes of Co2 emissions – enough to power 24 homes for a whole year.

A further case in point:

We are the only UK provider to supply Hydro, a world-leading aluminium and renewable energy company with post-consumer shredded material since 2017.

We have also been awarded gold awards from the company on an annual basis for the volume, price and quality of our aluminium.

Hydro Gold Award

And finally…we are one of the few certified producers of post-consumer recycled aluminium for remelts

We are putting our closed loop system to further good use by using it to process and recycle all of the UBC cans we receive on-site.

We are a major aluminium drinks can recycler – we handle and recycle 500 tonnes of cans every month, which is the equivalent to around 6,000 tonnes a year. We’ve been using our closed loop system for the last few years, which has generated widespread success.

So, there you have it, a real-life look at what aluminium recycling excellence looks like – for now. Like all industries, aluminium recycling is being shaped by the latest technological enhancements, which we are fortunately at the forefront of.

As we continue to review and refine our processes, we will develop more ground-breaking, efficient and environmentally-friendly ways of working, so keep watching this space! 

To find out more about our pioneering ways of working or to discuss your aluminium recycling requirements with us, email ed.george@alutrade.com