Aluminium has an important role to play in creating a more sustainable and environmentally responsible construction industry and by selecting the right building products, specifiers can help lower the embodied carbon of a new building.
Government statistics show that in the UK, approximately 120 million tonns of waste are produced by construction, demolition and excavation each year. This accounts for nearly 60% of all UK waste. Increasing the rate of recycling and reuse of materials is therefore an important part of reducing the amount of material that ends up in landfill, ensuring a better use of resources and lowering the amount of energy used in the production process.
Among all metals, aluminium now has the fastest growing demand and is an increasingly common choice of material in new buildings. Its excellent strength to weight ratio and natural corrosion resistance makes it ideal for everything from roofs and walls, to windows, doors and curtain walling. It also has the potential to be produced in very large volumes. Aluminium is produced from Bauxite ore, one of the most abundant materials on the planet, and vast quantities are mined each year. However, there is a limit to the supply and with the global population expanding and urban areas growing rapidly we must manage this resource carefully.
The natural properties of aluminium means that with the right approach it can be managed responsibly. Unlike other materials, it is endlessly recyclable with no degradation in quality and is easy to separate from other waste. This means that when buildings are demolished their aluminium components can be diverted from landfill and recycled. For example, when the old Wembley Stadium was demolished in 2003, 96% of the aluminium was recovered for recycling, including all the aluminium from the roof structure.
A further advantage of recycled aluminium is that melting it down for reuse requires only 5% of the energy needed for primary aluminium production. This means that products, and therefore, buildings that use recycled aluminium have a much smaller carbon footprint.
These benefits are embodied by the products we are launching manufactured from Hydro CIRCAL 75R, a high-quality alloy that contains a minimum of 75% recycled post-consumer aluminium. This 'infinite aluminium' is being used in a growing number of WICONA products including WICLINE 75 MAX, the innovative window series that has been recognised by both the Red Dot and iF Design Awards.
Thanks to the lower energy requirements of the recycling process, Hydro CIRCAL 75R has the smallest carbon footprint in the world at 2.3kg CO2 per kilo of aluminium - 84% less than the worldwide average for primary extraction.
The use of Hydro CIRCAL 75R is in line with the aims of the Closed Loop Recycling Scheme launched by the Council for Aluminium in Building (CAB). The scheme aims to improve the quantity and quality of recovered aluminium scrap available in the UK to help build a circular economy and keep aluminium in use as a 'permanent material'.
The amount of waste generated is a serious issue for the construction industry and to address this we need a renewed focus on how we can maximise the reuse of resources. As an infinitely recyclable material that is easily separated from other waste, there is no reason why aluminium needs to end up in landfill.