Aluminum – The ABCs of Green Building Materials

Recycling is the Key to Green Value

This is an easily recycled metal and explains its important value as a green building material. It’s 100 percent recyclable, and in the process of recycling, aluminum loses none of its high-strength, low-weight, or energy-efficient properties. Likewise, it can be repetitively recycled with no loss of quality.

Aluminum collection is also commonly the most valuable component of municipal recycling programs.

The Original Manufacturing Process is Not So Green

Compared to the energy required to produce new aluminum, the recycling process reduces energy use by over 90 percent. This is an important factor in assessing its value as a green building material. That’s because the original manufacturing process is not all that green. In fact, it’s downright awful.

Up to six pounds of bauxite ore are needed to produce one pound of aluminum. A huge amount of electricity and heat are required in the process, which typically comes from burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse gas emissions in the process contribute to air pollution and global warming.

Waste produced in the process also contains traces of heavy metals and other chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine, which must be disposed of properly as hazardous waste.

Offsetting the Negative Aspects of Aluminum

Offsetting the negative aspects of original production, recycling offsets a huge amount of energy consumption. Producing aluminum from recycled content requires only around 5 percent of the original energy needed to produce it from bauxite ore.

For every one ton of recycled content produced, four tons of bauxite ore are saved. Likewise, recycling it offsets 95 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur oxide (SOx), and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions released in original production, and offsets 97 percent of the water pollution.