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Aluminum and its Infinite Recycling Possibilities

By Edgar Scott, Kaiser Aluminum

What do airplane wings, beverage cans, food packaging and structural automotive parts all have in common? Aluminum – a 100% recyclable material. Let me use the occasion of National Recycling Day to highlight the importance of sustainable practices at Kaiser Aluminum here in Spokane.

Aluminum is lightweight, strong, flexible, corrosion resistant and long-lasting. Unlike other materials, aluminum is infinitely recyclable without any loss of quality. Approximately 85% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. In addition, the re-melting of aluminum saves 93% of the energy required for primary aluminum production. All these things make our products inherently sustainable and a key part of the global carbon reduction solution. It is also why it is important to recognize the vital role natural gas continues to play in aluminum recycling.

Our industry relies on natural gas to melt recycled aluminum and primary aluminum in large furnaces. There are no other alternatives currently available. To put it simply, we need natural gas to produce our products, increase our use of recycled aluminum, continue to reduce the carbon footprint of our products and make our products available to our customers and end users, including all of us.

Each year we ship more than 1.1 billion pounds of products used in aerospace, food and beverage packaging, industrial and automotive applications. The products we make are used to increase fuel efficiency, which represents 27% of greenhouse gases nationally, increase the recycled aluminum content of other products and are an essential part of the solution to reducing emissions.

Kaiser Aluminum has a significant role to continue to play in achieving a future low carbon economy and supports emissions reductions pathways that use dependable, energy efficient manufacturing and technology innovations. Currently, natural gas is the only reliable and cost-effective energy source that allows us to melt and heat recycled and primary aluminum, increase our use of recycled aluminum and increase the sustainability of our products that are a critical part of the carbon solution. Unfortunately, some stakeholders don’t understand the advantages of using recycled aluminum and the limitations of current technology and favor solutions designed to eliminate natural gas before alternative energy sources and technology are developed and commercially available.

We believe our path to achieving climate goals by 2050 will require a combination of clean and reliable power grids, new technologies for melting and heating aluminum, a circular economy for scrap, green prime and legislation that does not result in the leakage of manufacturing, jobs and carbon emissions to areas with less efficient manufacturers and larger carbon footprints. As a major employer and business in Spokane, we urge all stakeholders to learn more about aluminum recycling, our processes and the critical role our products play in achieving climate goals by 2050. To learn more about our efforts, read our latest sustainability report.

Edgar Scott is the vice president of environmental and governmental affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane.

This op-ed was originally published in the Spokesman-Review.

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