Quantifying the collection and recovery rates of aluminium after its use stage is known as the end-of-life recycling approach. Such quantification allows manufacturers, policy-makers and other decision-makers to evaluate real performance and to encourage improvements in the design and management of products, including their disposal and recycling.

Aluminium building products are recycled without alteration of the metal’s inherent properties; therefore the best approach to improving resource efficiency is the intelligent design of applications that maximize the end of life recycling rate.

Khakas aluminium smelter, Russia © RUSAL

As stated in the “Declaration by the Metals Industry on Recycling Principles”, the recycled content concept has a limited environmental significance for metals, especially for aluminium which is systematically recycled.

The recycled content approach is a useful metric only for material where the energy and cost saved by recycling are relatively small compared to those of primary production. In practice, this means that these materials would otherwise be incinerated or landfilled as waste. In this case, targeting a percentage of recycled content has an environmental meaning since it stimulates a market for recycled materials that is otherwise limited, uneconomic or immature.

This approach does not apply to aluminium for which recycling technologies and markets are mature and profitable as reflected by the high value of aluminium scrap.

There are no environmental benefits to direct recycled aluminium towards targeted market applications while it is already more efficiently recycled into other demanding markets. On the contrary, adopting the recycled content approach may create market distortions and environmental inefficiencies. If a customer asks for increased recycled aluminium content in specific products this can stimulate the market to direct recycled feedstock towards these products and away from products or markets where recycled aluminium is ecologically and economically best applied.

The end-of-life recycling rate is a much more meaningful environmental indicator for aluminium.