Of the estimated 900 million tonnes of aluminium produced since 1880, three quarters is still in productive use.  Around 35% is located in buildings, 30% in electrical cables and machinery and 30% within transport applications. Recycling the metal currently stored in use would equal up to 17 years’ worth of current annual primary aluminium production.

IAI's Global Mass Flow Visualisation Tool

There are some important regions of the world where there is limited data available on aluminium collection and recycling rates.

Because of this, data collection has been complemented by the development of a global mass flow model that traces the flow of aluminium from 1888 to the present along the complete value chain and allows for building scenarios for flows out to 2030. Eight major processes are investigated: bauxite mining, alumina refining, aluminium and aluminium ingot production, fabrication (rolling, extrusion and casting), manufacturing (production and assembly of finished products), use and recycling. 

The property of recyclability means that the world’s increasing stock in use of aluminium acts like a resource bank, over time delivering more and more practical use and value from the energy embodied in the metal at the time of its production. 

The amount of aluminium produced from old scrap has grown from one million tonnes in 1980 to 17 million tonnes in 2016. Since the 1980s the transport sector has been the most important resource for recycled aluminium from end-of-life products. As aluminium construction products often have lifetimes running into decades, scrap from building applications has only become available in the 2000s and only in the quantities put into such applications when the buildings were constructed, over 30 years ago. 

Today recycled aluminium produced from old scrap originates 40% from transport, 20% from packaging, 30% from engineering and cables and only 10% from building applications, due to their long life times.

In February 2017, the IAI launched a new web-based tool to visualise the aluminium value chain, from bauxite to scrap, including inter-regional trade flows. The IAI’s mass flow visualisation (see link to the left) allows users to manipulate a dynamic Sankey diagram showing the production, consumption and trade of bauxite, alumina, ingots (primary and recycled), semis, final products and scrap across nine regions and over the period 1962 to today.

Among other things the visualisation shows that:

  • In 2004, 15 million tonnes of scrap were available worldwide.  In 2014 this scrap availability has increased to 26 million tonnes. 
  • North America, being historically the largest generator of scrap globally, was overtaken by China in 2014, which generated 6.5 million tonnes of scrap in that year. 
  • In 2015, 20 million tonnes aluminium contained in bauxite were traded between the nine regions, followed by aluminium contained in final products (19 million tonnes), ingots (12 million tonnes), semis (5 million tonnes) and scrap (4 million tonnes).