Recycling & Circular Economy

Circular Aluminium Action Plan

The Circular Aluminium Action Plan is the sector’s strategy for achieving aluminium’s full potential for a circular economy by 2030. It builds on the aluminium industry’s Vision 2050, with a focus on recycling and provides policy recommendations for EU policymakers for the new Circular Economy Action Plan and the EU’s objectives to reduce its CO2 emissions.

Aluminium has the potential to be a key driver to Europe’s transition to a climate-neutral and circular economy. It is a vital metal, creating a wide variety of products and materials that are essential contributors to achieving a greener future for Europe. By combining aluminium with different alloying elements, a wide range of properties can be obtained (lightweight, durability, conductivity, formability). Thanks to these unique properties, aluminium helps other sectors to achieve their own targets for CO2 emissions reduction; in particular the transport sector.

 

The aluminium industry wants to ensure that all types of scrap generated are of high quality and that they are minimised and recycled in the most efficient way.

  • Aluminium is a circular material, capable of being recycled multiple times without losing its original properties.  
  • Aluminium recycling rates in Europe are among the highest: over 90% in the automotive and building sectors, and 75% for aluminium cans.
  • The aluminium recycling process requires only 5% of the energy needed to produce the primary metal, resulting in important savings in CO2.

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Potential scenarios for recycled aluminium in Europe

  • Based on the forecast consumption, the amount of post-consumer aluminium available for recycling will more than double by 2050. It will increase from 3.6 million tonnes per year in 2019 to 8.6 million tonnes by 2050.
  • By mid-century, 50% of our needs for aluminium could be supplied through post-consumer recycling. Today, recycled aluminium (pre- and post-consumer scrap) represents 36% of the aluminium metal supply in Europe.
  • According to estimates, aluminium recycling could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 39 million tonnes per year by 2050, which corresponds to a reduction of 46% of CO2 per year in 2050; achieved mostly by replacing carbon-intensive primary aluminium imports with recycled domestic post-consumer aluminium.
  • As a consequence of this high recycling scenario, the volume of imported aluminium sold in Europe would also decrease, reducing Europe’s import dependence while generating €6 billion per year for the European economy.

The aluminium industry is keen to seize the opportunities presented and to drive the changes needed. The new Circular Economy Action Plan presented by the European Commission on 11 March should create the right incentives to promote circular business models to take advantage of the enormous potential that lies ahead for the aluminium industry in Europe.

A truly circular economy can only be achieved if it is fully supported by a well-functioning regulatory framework at the European level, contributing to the efficient use of resources and climate change mitigation.

A combination of a circular material handling (with the design for circularity; improved collection and sorting; removal of barriers to the internal market; limitation of scrap exports), incentives for circular solutions and products and the recognition of the role of recycling in mitigating climate change, are the conditions to reap the full potential of aluminium for circularity.

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Why permanent materials such as aluminium are perfectly suitable to a circular economy

It is important to make a clear distinction between recycling which leads to the gradual degradation of the material, and recycling which keeps the material in the loop without losing its intrinsic material characteristics. Aluminium can claim to be a permanent material, one for which the inherent properties do not change during use and following repeated recycling into new products.