Having properties that do not degrade in a similar fashion as paper or plastic, aluminum is the best known candidate for recycling and reusing. Not only does the act of recycling aluminum require 95% less energy than producing new material from bauxite ore, it also offers near indefinite use.
According to Nick Madden, the man responsible for buying new raw material for Novelis, the worlds largest manufacturer of rolled aluminum sheets, “it is one of the few materials genuinely 100% recyclable.” In his, and other experts view, a day may come when we have mined all we need, and we can just keep re-using what we already have.
This would be a great advancement in our resource conservation efforts, because aluminum, at the moment, is an extremely versatile metal, benefitting the transportation industry with its strength, flexibility and lightness.
Demand for the metal is certainly growing across the globe as well, with a 25% bump in demand from the motor industry. This coincides nicely with the potential for 25% less fuel usage, and a 38% reduction in weight (as evidenced by the latest line of Range Rovers.)
Considering that Novelis sources 50% of its aluminum from junk, including empty cans, scrapped vehicles, and demolition sites, this demand is welcome among those looking for sustainable sources of material. With a plan to increase this to 80% by the beginning of the next decade, the expectations for aluminum as a renewable resource are only going to grow larger.
Although we could see new technology emerge (like cheap carbon fiber), aluminum is an effective pathway future sustainability. The more we focus on increasing the efficiency of aluminum recycling, the less of a chance subsequent generations will have to continue clearing earth and mining deeper for bauxite, which is a huge victory in itself.