A Look at Recycling Aluminum Facts and Carbon Footprint.

One of the confusing things about recycling aluminum facts is knowing what type of units are being discussed, and being able to convert to a standard unit.

In looking at aluminum recycling, as with all recycling, one of the common factors that crops up is the carbon footprint. The US EPA has a report called Solid Waste Management and Greenhouse Gases.

In Chapter 2, they talk about the Greenhouse Gas (GHG)emmissions in terms of Metric Tons Carbon Equivilent per ton of product.(MTCE)

Say what? Care to explain?

Since EPA works with metric tons and kg and I think in pounds and ounces, I needed to do some conversions. One of the best converters I've found is onlineconversions.com, which allows you to convert almost anything into anything.

For starters, few people express their carbon footprint in carbon rather than carbon dioxide(CO2). You can always convert carbon to CO2 by multiplying by a factor of 3.703 (1000 carbon equals 3703 of CO2). Or you can convert CO2 to carbon by multiplying with a factor 0.27 (1000 CO2 equals 270 carbon).

Now lets start looking at recycling some aluminum.

One recycling fact that I didn't know is that making a new aluminum can from recycled cans takes 95% less energy than making the same can from virgin ore.

Another recycling fact is that in 1972, one pound of aluminum cans was equivalent to about 22 empty cans. Due to advanced technology using less material and increasing the durability of aluminum cans, in 2002, one pound of aluminum cans is equivalent to about 34 empty cans.

With those thoughts in mind, let's look at what happens with a can of Monster Energy drink. I buy the 16 ounce size, which weighs 0.5 ounces when it's empty.

There are three areas that can be looked at for carbon release in the manufacturing of aluminum: the carbon released from the inputs; both virgin and recycled, the carbon released from the non-energy processing and the combination of the two. We will start with a look at the carbon released from the combination,(which includes transportaion).

The MTCE per ton of Virgin Aluminum and transportation energy emissions is 4.27. Since I want to be working in pounds and ounces, I convert by multiplying the MTCE by the short ton conversion factor of 1.1023113109 and get 4.707 Short Tons of Carbon Equivalents. Since a short ton weights 2000 pounds, there are 9,413.74 Pounds of Carbon Equivalents per short ton. (4.707 times 2,000). That works out to 4.71 Carbon Equvalents per pound.

The Carbon Equivalents convert to Carbon Dioxide by multiplying by a factor of 3.703, which results in 17.43 pounds of CO2 per pound of input.

Since my hypothetical aluminum can only weighs 0.5 ounces, that means that it is 0.03125 parts of a pound (1 divided by 16 times 0.5), we can multiply both the Carbon Equivalents per pound of input (4.71) and the CO2 per pound (17.43) by that factor and arrive at 0.147 pounds of Carbon Equivalent and 0.545 pounds of Carbon Dioxide that is released for each 0.5 ounce can that is manufactured from virgin inputs.

Now let's look at the same can made with 100% recycled aluminum adding in the non-energy factors.

If that can was made from 1 metric ton of recycled material, it would produce 0.3 metric tons carbon equivalent (MTCE) per ton of aluminum. Let's see, that's 661.39 pounds of carbon equivalents per short ton, which converts to 0.33 pounds of carbon equivalents and 1.22 pounds of CO2 per pound of input.

Since recycled aluminum only creates 0.33 pounds of carbon equivalents and 1.22 pounds of CO2 per pound of input, manufacturing our 0.5 ounce can would only emit 0.038 pounds of CO2.

With the current mix of 51% mix of recycled cans and virgin inputs per ton, we end up with 4,938.35 pounds of carbon per short ton and our can will create 0.077 pounds of carbon equivalents. This works out to 0.286 pounds (4.576 ounces) of CO2 per can.

In summary, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released from making a 0.5 ounce aluminum can to fill with 16 ounces of Monster Energy Drink will be 0.545 pounds (8.72 ounces) with virgin inputs, 0.038 pounds (0.608 ounces) with all recycled material and 0.286 pounds (4.576 ounces) with a 51% recycled mix.

Obviously, if we could create all the new cans from nothing but recycled aluminum, we would have a much larger savings in CO2 emmissions, but that isn't realistic. We do get a 47.54% reduction in CO2 emmissions from the current mix of 51% recycled aluminum, as compared to all virgin inputs. If the amount of aluminum recycled increases, then the amount available to be used in new manufacturing might increase, so always recycle your aluminum.

Or, you could just make a model aluminum can airplane, car, truck, locomotive, farm equipment or shark

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