US Automotive Aluminum Recycling at a Very High Rate

The overall recycling rate for automotive aluminum in the USA is 91 percent. The weighted average material collection rate for end-of-life vehicles that flow through a dismantling operation and a downstream separation system is 99.7 percent.

When a heavy gauge scrap class is charged – referred to as a heavy recovery process – a metal yield of 95 percent is attained. Light gauge scrap melting – referred to a light recovery process – is estimated to result in a metal yield of 91 percent. The majority of automotive aluminum is charged as a light gauge, mixed, shredded scrap. It has been estimated that 86 percent of obsolete auto-aluminum is charged in this form. These are the results of a new research from the Center for Resource Recovery and Recycling at Worcester Polytechnic Institute that was funded by the Aluminum Association.

“We set out to detail exactly how aluminum is separated and recovered at the end of a vehicle‘s service life, and findings show it is highly recyclable and is recovered and reused at very high rates,“ said Professor Diran Apelian, founding director at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. A sensitivity analysis was conducted to determine a minimum and maximum automotive aluminum recycling rate percent for the US. This recycling rate range is 80 percent to 98 percent. The weighted average of 91 percent falls within this range and is estimated to be much more representative of the entire industry in comparison to these extremes.

But there are still two information gaps. The loss of end-of-life vehicles to landfill respectively the number of vehicles that ultimately end up in a recycling system somewhere could be further examined and investigated. And an analysis on aluminum alloys potentially diverted to other material streams during the recycling processes would be worthwhile.

The distributed surveys covered 5 percent of the United States’ dismantling industry considering the amount of end-of-life vehicles entering the survey respondent’s lots, 32 percent of the downstream separation system industry based on volumetric throughput and 60 to 70 percent of the secondary aluminum production industry based on market share responses.

In its own appraisal, “the study provides one of the best quantifications to date of the average percent (91 percent) of aluminum currently being recovered by the recycling systems in the US. This level of metal recovery is considered highly efficient and effective.“ And Tom Boney, chairman of the Aluminum Association‘s Aluminum Transportation Group (ATG) and vice president and general manager Automotive Value Stream, Novelis North America underlined: “As the United States and the rest of the world continue to strive for a more environmentally friendly future, aluminum is a big part of the solution and this new data confirms it.“

To view the full report: Automotive Aluminum Recycling at End of Life – A Grave-to-Gate Analysis, please visit

Photo: O. Kürth