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Home > Garbage and Recycling > Recyclable Materials > Aluminum

Garbage and Recycling: Recyclable Materials: Aluminum

aluminum code
Aluminum recycling is more than bringing you pop cans to a recycler. We give specific ways to recognize what is out there.


Pop/beer cans are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to products made with aluminum. Alloys of aluminum are used in airplanes, cars, appliances, gutters and many other things. One main reason to use aluminum is that it is light and fairly cheap.
     Aluminum comes from a mined ore called bauxite and the extraction of aluminum can be very energy intensive. Processing the ore also creates a lot of waste that aluminum manufactures are not sure how to deal with. Recycling aluminum significantly reduces energy costs (90-95%) and almost all the wastes associated with mining of the ore.
    There are a high amount of Aluminum cans recycled in this country (55%) but Brazil leads all nations at near 90%. However, overall we recycle about 20% of all waste aluminum (2010 .pdf).
     To better help us recover more aluminum we have a set of questions for your consideration.
  • What products contain Aluminum?

  • How can I tell if my waste contains Aluminum?

  • Where can I take these items?

  • Can I get money from these items?

Products containing Aluminum:
  • Transportation: Planes, trains and automobiles. Boats and bikes.
  • Construction: Doors, windows, siding, building wire.
  • Packaging: Cans, bottles, foil.
  • Powder: Paints and pyrotechnics.
  • Appliances: Cooking utensils, baseball bats, outer shell of appliances.
  • Coatings: Mirror, electronics.
  • Various other: Heat sinks, light poles, canes, walkers, crutches, coins, LED lighting, and the list goes on.
Aluminum and alloys of aluminum (over 1400 of them) are everywhere and are used in practically everything. This metal is a highly recyclable alternative to many products that use plastic in their construction. It does not rust and is fairly tough (not brittle).
     Even though aluminum is recyclable, there are some applications where it is unlikely to be recovered. Such as in paint, coatings and fireworks.
     For a lot more details about Aluminum check out this quick reference from Wikipedia

How can I tell my waste is aluminum?
You have some metal scrap, how can you tell that it is aluminum? Aluminum is a silvery metal. However, some aluminum can have a coating that makes it look a different color.
     Magnetic? Aluminum is not magnetic, so if you put a magnet near it it will not stick. 
     Bendable? Aluminum is more malleable (bendable) than many other metals. If you have a thin piece of aluminum it will bend easier than Titanium, Steel or most other alloys of the same thickness.
     Light? Aluminum and it alloys are the least dense metals that you will commonly find. Try lifting the metal, is it light? If yes, chances are it is Aluminum.
     How can you know with more accuracy? You could measure it's density (see calculator below). You will need to measure the metals weight. Then you need to measure the metals volume. For sheet, block and rod that is fairly straight forward. However, for odd shaped pieces, you may have to measure volume with "water displacement" (see Glossary of Terms below).  
Density = Mass ÷ Volume.
Table of common metal densities
Metal Density(gr/cc) Density(lb/cu in)
Aluminum 2.5 - 3.3 0.091 - 0.120
Steel 6.8 - 7.9 0.246 - 0.286
Copper 8.0 - 10.0 0.290 - 0.362
Titanium 4.4 - 4.9 0.160 - 0.178
Nickel 8.0 - 10.0 0.290 - 0.362
Tin 6.0 - 8.5 0.218 - 0.308
Zinc 5.0 - 7.2 0.181 - 0.261

Where can I take these items and can I get money?
Beverage containers are easy. Every recycler will take these and pay you for them. The harder stuff to sell is the other things made with aluminum.
     In general, you will get a lower amount of money for "scrap aluminum" than for aluminum cans. How much will depend on the dealer and the markets. For a quick look at the market prices of metals (including Aluminum) you can check InvestmentMine. These prices will be what the recycler gets not what they will pay you (expect 30% to 50% less).
     Also, many charitable organizations may take appliances and try to fix them. If they can't, they will disassemble them for recycling. 
Helpful Links:


Items in our "Waste and Recycling" section.

  • Recycle Centers:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Composters:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Vermicomposters:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Garbage Bags:
    Home Recycling ________________
  • Recycle Kits:
    Home Recycling ________________



Glossary of Terms & Density Calculator:

Bauxite: a rock consisting of aluminum oxides and hydroxides with various impurities: the principal ore of aluminum.

Method of water displacement: A method of determining volume of odd shaped objects. Place water in some measuring container and measure the level (V1). Place object into container so that it is completely covered by water without spillage of container. Measure the level again (V2. Subtract the two volume measurements (V2 - V1). The difference in water level is the volume the odd shaped object takes up. You can use that in your density calculation.

Volume conversion:
1 gallon = 231 cubic inches.
1 cup = 14.4 cubic inches.
Pyrotechnics: Fireworks and stuff.

Alloy: a metal composed of two or more metals mixed together.

Volume of Cube or sheet = length x width x height.

Volume of rod = length x pi x (diameter/2) x (diameter/2).   pi = 3.14

Density: The ratio of mass to volume of a material. This can be expressed as grams per cubic centimeter (gr/cc) or pounds per cubic inch (lb/cu in).
Density Calculator:
This Calculator is designed to help you calculate the density of pieces of ordinary objects. It is mainly for measuring blocks/sheets, rods and odd shaped materials (Water Displacement).
Decimal conversions: 1/8 = 0.125, 1/4 = 0.25, 3/8 = 0.375, 1/2 = 0.5, 5/8 = 0.625, 3/4 = 0.75, 7/8 = 0.875.
Select Calculator By Shape Of Object:


Enter Weight (Mass) of Object:
Volume = Length x Width x Height. Enter these values below.
Enter measurement units:
Density (gr/cc) Density (lb/cu in)


Enter Weight (Mass) of Object:
Volume = Pi x (Diameter/2)2 x Length. Enter these values below.
Enter measurement units:
Density (gr/cc) Density (lb/cu in)

Odd Shape (Use Water Displacement):

Enter Weight (Mass) of Object:
Volume = Volume2 - Volume1. Enter these values below.
Enter measurement units:
Volume 1:
Volume 2:
Density (gr/cc) Density (lb/cu in)


http://www.world-aluminium.org/, World Aluminum Web site. Taken 3/3/13.

http://www.epa.gov/radiation/tenorm/aluminum.html, Aluminum production wastes, 3/3/13.

Municipal solid waste, 2010 facts and figures, EPA (.pdf).

http://www.matweb.com/Search/MaterialGroupSearch.aspx?GroupID=178, Alloys of Aluminum properties data, MatWeb, Taken 3/4/13.

http://www.infomine.com/investment/metal-prices/aluminum/, Aluminum market prices, Investementmine, taken 3/7/13.