Sustainability is increasingly prioritized by product designers. Making sustainable and environmentally conscious choices during the design process has multiple benefits including reductions in waste, energy use, and production costs. Designing with aluminum is an excellent choice for sustainability.
The primary reason is that aluminum can be recycled indefinitely without losing any of its high quality or unique characteristics. This property of infinite recyclability means that about 75% of the almost one billion tons of aluminum produced since 1888 is still in productive use. Each ton of aluminum that is recycled – rather than produced from ore – saves 24 barrels of crude oil and over 15 tons of water. In fact, recycling currently represents approximately 35% of the world’s aluminum production and uses 95% less energy than manufacturing from ore.
Environmentally Conscious Production Process
Even when the aluminum used is not from recycled materials, the environmental impact of aluminum production is still lower than other resources. This is because aluminum is created from bauxite ore, which is generally found in four to six meter thick deposits just below the topsoil. The standard practice in the industry is to remove and store all the topsoil, mine the ore, and then restore the site and replace the topsoil. A majority of the bauxite mining sites worldwide are returned to their original state, minimizing the long-term impact of the mining. Additionally, an estimated 55% of world aluminum production is powered by renewable hydroelectric power. Making aluminum – either newly manufactured or recycled – an excellent choice to minimize the environmental footprint of a design.
Lighter Weight Means Lower Fuel Consumption
Aluminum is approximately one-third the weight of iron, steel, copper, or brass. This makes aluminum extrusions easier to handle and less expensive to ship to you. Downstream, use of this lighter weight material in a finished product, such as building materials, sporting goods, or automotive products, translates to lower fuel consumption during product delivery, or in the case of an automobile, a more fuel-efficient product.
Because of these benefits, some designers are recreating prior steel parts with aluminum extrusions. For example, one customer, a large sporting goods equipment manufacturer, had this part originally produced in steel. Our manufacturing team was asked if the part could be replicated in aluminum and achieve the same strength requirements. Working closely with the customer’s design team to ensure they took full advantage of all aluminum extrusion manufacturing functions, the final design resulted in an equally strong aluminum part that could be manufactured for less than the prior steel part. In addition, the decreased weight of the product dramatically reduced the customer’s distribution shipping costs.
Further Increase Sustainability with the Right Aluminum Extruder
Choosing an aluminum extrusion company that uses state-of-the-art automated systems for packing their finished profiles is another step toward sustainability. Using these automated systems results in fewer packaging materials, such as side wood battens, top wood battens, steel strapping and cardboard, are needed in the packaging process. Downstream this means fewer materials are being put into the waste stream, and customers reduce their disposal and recycle costs.
When designers choose an aluminum extrusion manufacturer committed to sustainability not only will the environment benefit, but so will the bottom line. A manufacturer that is continually optimizing the use of energy and materials and is committed to a 100% aluminum recycling policy and to reducing indirect material waste, will organically arrive at a lower bottom line due to these improved efficiencies.