Does Aluminum Get Recycled More Than Plastic? The Surprising Truth 

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Recycling has become an essential part of our lives as we continue to face environmental challenges. It is the process of converting waste materials into new products to reduce the negative impact on the environment. Among the materials that are widely recycled are aluminum and plastic.

Have you ever wondered which material gets recycled more—aluminum or plastic? With recycling becoming increasingly important in our daily lives, it’s essential to understand the recycling rates and environmental impact of these materials. 

In this article, we will compare aluminum and plastic as recyclable materials and discuss their recycling processes, rates, advantages and disadvantages, innovations, and ways to increase recycling rates.

The Importance of Recycling in Reducing Environmental Waste

Recycling plays a crucial role in reducing the negative impact of waste on the environment. It helps conserve natural resources, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and decreases the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Recycling aluminum and plastic, in particular, helps save energy and reduce carbon emissions. Manufacturing new aluminum products from recycled aluminum requires 95% less energy than producing it from raw materials. Recycling one ton of aluminum saves up to nine tons of CO2 emissions. Similarly, recycling plastic also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling one ton of plastic can save up to 2,000 gallons of gasoline.

Does Aluminum Get Recycled More Than Plastic?

Aluminum and plastic are both commonly used materials in our daily lives. Aluminum is used in beverage cans, food packaging, and automotive parts, while plastic is used in a wide range of products such as water bottles, food containers, and household items.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), aluminum has a higher recycling rate than plastic. In 2018, the recycling rate for aluminum beverage cans was 49.8%, while the recycling rate for plastic beverage bottles was 28.9%. The overall recycling rate for all aluminum products was 34.9%, while the recycling rate for all plastic products was only 8.7%.

The higher recycling rate for aluminum can be attributed to a few factors. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, meaning it can be recycled over and over again without losing its quality. In addition, aluminum recycling uses less energy than producing new aluminum, making it a more sustainable option. The recycling process for aluminum also produces fewer emissions than the production of new aluminum.

Plastic, on the other hand, is more difficult to recycle. There are many different types of plastic, and not all of them can be recycled. Plastic recycling also requires more energy than producing new plastic, which can make it a less attractive option for manufacturers.

Differences Between Aluminum and Plastic as Recyclable Materials

Aluminum and plastic have distinct properties that affect their recyclability. Aluminum is a metal that is lightweight, strong, and corrosion-resistant, while plastic is a synthetic material that is lightweight, flexible, and durable.

The main difference between aluminum and plastic is their chemical composition. Aluminum is a pure element that can be recycled indefinitely without losing its quality. In contrast, plastic is a polymer that degrades with each recycling, limiting its lifespan.

The Recycling Process for Aluminum and Plastic

The recycling process for aluminum and plastic involves several stages. The following table shows the steps involved in the recycling process for each material.

Aluminum Recycling ProcessPlastic Recycling Process
Collection and SortingCollection and Sorting
Shredding and MeltingShredding and Melting
Filtering and RefiningFiltering and Refining
Casting and RollingPelletizing and Extruding
Fabrication and ManufacturingFabrication and Manufacturing

The first step in the recycling process for both materials is the collection and sorting of waste. This step involves separating the recyclable material from other waste materials.

The second step is shredding and melting. The waste material is shredded into small pieces and melted in a furnace to remove any impurities.

The third step is filtering and refining. The melted material is passed through a filter to remove any remaining impurities, and the refined material is then shaped into the desired form.

The fourth step for aluminum is casting and rolling, where it is cast into ingots and then rolled into sheets, while for plastic, it is pelletized and extruded into new products.

The final step is fabrication and manufacturing, where the recycled material is used to manufacture new products.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum and Plastic Recycling

Aluminum and plastic recycling have their advantages and disadvantages. The following table shows the advantages and disadvantages of each recycling process.

Aluminum Recycling AdvantagesDisadvantages
Saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissionsRequires high energy consumption in the refining process
Can be recycled indefinitely without losing qualityCollection and sorting can be challenging
Conserves natural resourcesDependence on foreign sources of aluminum
Produces high economic valueCan cause pollution during the production of new products
Plastic Recycling AdvantagesDisadvantages
Reduces waste in landfillsDegrades with each recycling
Saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissionsLimited lifespan
Can be used to make a wide range of productsDifficult to sort and process waste
Conserves natural resourcesLow economic value of recycled plastic

Innovations and New Technologies in Aluminum and Plastic Recycling

Innovations and new technologies are emerging in the recycling industry to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aluminum and plastic recycling. For example, a new technology called MagSonic has been developed to recycle aluminum without emitting any greenhouse gases. This technology uses magnetism to extract impurities from molten aluminum, eliminating the need for chemical refining.

Similarly, new plastic recycling technologies such as chemical recycling and pyrolysis are being developed to address the challenges of recycling plastic waste. Chemical recycling involves breaking down plastic into its chemical building blocks, which can be used to make new products. Pyrolysis involves heating plastic waste to high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, breaking it down into its constituent chemicals.

Ways to Increase Recycling Rates for Both Aluminum and Plastic

There are several ways to increase recycling rates for both aluminum and plastic. The following are some examples:

  • Increase public awareness and education about the importance of recycling and the benefits of recycling aluminum and plastic.
  • Improve the infrastructure for collecting, sorting, and processing waste materials. This can be achieved through increased investment in recycling facilities and the implementation of better sorting and processing technologies.
  • Increase the economic value of recycled materials by creating markets for recycled aluminum and plastic products.
  • Encourage manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their products by offering incentives and rewards for doing so.
  • Implement regulations that require businesses and individuals to recycle their waste materials, thereby increasing the supply of recycled materials.


In conclusion, aluminum and plastic are both widely recycled materials, but their recycling rates and processes differ significantly. Aluminum has a much higher recycling rate than plastic due to its purity and economic value, but plastic recycling is still essential for reducing waste in landfills and conserving natural resources. Innovations and new technologies are emerging to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aluminum and plastic recycling, and ways to increase recycling rates for both materials exist. 

By taking action to increase recycling rates, we can help reduce the negative impact of waste on the environment and create a more sustainable future.

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