• 08 – 10 October 2024
  • Exhib. Centre Düsseldorf

More than recycling: Aluminium circularity

A path to better climate protection and resource efficiency

03 November 2023

The circular economy is more than just recycling. Rather, it is a holistic, comprehensive approach that encompasses various strategies, such as the elimination of non-essential materials, the redistribution of resources and the rethinking of production processes. Properly implemented, the circular economy offers an effective approach to sustainability that makes it possible to meet increasing demand and contribute to climate protection at the same time. It is also a synergistic approach that not only recycles, but also rethinks, redesigns and revolutionises the way we look at resource consumption and waste.

With the "Circularity Framework", the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative (ASI) demonstrates a comprehensive approach to the circular economy in the aluminium industry.

„Circularity Framework“: Circular economy in the aluminium industry

The aluminium industry is currently facing a double challenge: it needs to meet growing demand while reducing its carbon footprint – and that of the wider public. Conventional approaches such as increasing recycling rates are still important, but in this case they are not enough. To meet the challenges facing the industry, the Aluminium Stewardship Initiative presents a more comprehensive solution in the form of the “Circularity Framework”.

Given that the aluminium sector was responsible for over one billion tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2021, the need for a circular approach is undeniable. But circularity goes far beyond traditional recycling approaches and seeks to reduce the sector's carbon emissions by first rethinking the entire lifecycle of a product – from idea to design to disposal.

The ASI approach includes various "R-strategies" such as the elimination of unnecessary materials, the redistribution of resources and the rethinking of production processes. Implementing these strategies makes it possible to minimise waste and reduce dependence on primary aluminium, thereby lowering overall CO2 emissions. Implementing circular economy measures such as extending the lifespan of materials and introducing design-for-disassembly can even lead to a reduction in material consumption of a good 28%. For example, the automotive sector could immensely extend the average lifespan of aluminium components through optimised design and maintenance. Similarly, in the construction sector, design-for-disassembly could enable more effective material recovery at the end of a building's life. These are promising avenues for future research and pilot projects that could lead to significant material and energy savings.

The concept of the circular economy also requires the entire life cycle phases of aluminium products to be considered – from the most responsible sourcing possible to production and end-of-life management. Looking at the entire life cycle makes it easier to identify opportunities for resource efficiency, which can lead to an additional reduction in CO2 emissions. Digital traceability technologies such as material or product passports can also play an increasing role in optimising the entire life cycle of aluminium products, thereby improving resource efficiency and sustainability.

Circular economy for the fight against climate change

The transition to an all-encompassing circular economy contributes directly to mitigating climate change. Without improvements in the circular economy, around 15 million tonnes of aluminium could be lost annually by 2050. Recovering these materials increases the efficiency of the entire aluminium value chain and reduces the demand for 15 million tonnes of primary aluminium, thereby emitting an average of 250 million tonnes of CO2 annually. In addition, reducing the inherent carbon footprint of aluminium at all stages of its lifecycle can lead to even greater CO2 savings.

The circular economy is not an alternative, but a necessity for the aluminium industry. It offers a holistic approach to sustainability that also supports the current challenges. But it needs to be looked at more deeply, rethought, redesigned and revolutionised. It is time to go beyond traditional recycling rates and take comprehensive action towards a circular economy. ASI knows that as we move forward, the industry should not be content with incremental change, but should capitalise on the transformative potential that the circular economy brings.