Aluminium is 100% recyclable without any loss of its natural qualities. Recovery of the metal via recycling has become an important facet of the aluminium industry.
Recycling involves melting the scrap, a process that requires only five percent of the energy used to produce aluminium from ore. However, a significant part (up to 15% of the input material) is lost as dross (ash-like oxide). The dross can undergo a further process to extract aluminum.
Recycling was a low-profile activity until the late 1960s, when the growing use of aluminium beverage cans brought it to the public awareness.
In Europe aluminium experiences high rates of recycling, ranging from 42% of beverage cans, 85% of construction materials and 95% of transport vehicles.
Recycled aluminium is known as secondary aluminium, but maintains the same physical properties as primary aluminium. Secondary aluminium is produced in a wide range of formats and is employed in 80% of the alloy injections. Another important use is for extrusion.
White dross from primary aluminium production and from secondary recycling operations still contains useful quantities of aluminium which can be extracted industrially. The process produces aluminium billets, together with a highly complex waste material. This waste is difficult to manage. It reacts with water, releasing a mixture of gases (including, among others, hydrogen, acetylene, and ammonia) which spontaneously ignites on contact with air; contact with damp air results in the release of copious quantities of ammonia gas. Despite these difficulties, however, the waste has found use as a filler in asphalt and concrete.