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INTERVIEW: Material swapping can boost aluminum use if sustainability awareness grows: JW Aluminum

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INTERVIEW: Material swapping can boost aluminum use if sustainability awareness grows: JW Aluminum


Leaders must increase education efforts outside of industry

Construction industry provides opportunities for substitution

Aluminum's sustainability profile has made it an increasingly viable option for material substitution in key end markets such as transportation and construction, but industry outreach to further educate downstream users on these properties can ensure that this substitution becomes more prevalent and remains a long-term demand trend, JW Aluminum Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Roush said.

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Direct stakeholders in the aluminum industry already place high value on the sustainability attributes of the metal, especially those of secondary aluminum produced from recycled content, Roush said in an interview with S&P Global Platts. However, consumers in end markets may not be fully aware of the extent of aluminum's sustainability, which may hinder its adoption in certain applications, he added.

"The key decision makers and influencers in our industry need to do a better job of educating decision makers outside of our industry, working downstream, talking to architects, talking to building design firms and really pitching and demonstrating the benefits of aluminum both from a physical and sustainability aspect," he said.

The South Carolina-based aluminum company now plans to be more active in engaging end-users throughout the value chain regarding the advantages of aluminum compared with other competing substrates.

"We believe there is a lot of opportunity for material substitution away from competing products into aluminum because wood does rot, vinyl warps and steel rusts, but aluminum doesn't," Roush said.

"The strength-to-weight ratio of aluminum is a good story, and the sustainability angle of aluminum in general is a very good story. So, we are focused on trying to move downstream in our value chain and explain the benefits."

Roush said the construction industry represents a prime opportunity for greater material substitution to aluminum, especially as demand from the sector has grown rapidly over the last year with strong home sales and renovation activity driven partially by work from home policies.

Education must extend into recycling efforts

To take full advantage of aluminum's sustainability profile, Roush said the US also needs to ramp up recycling efforts with greater education outreach and the implementation of infrastructure such as aluminum can deposit programs.

"It's common knowledge that states that have the deposit program for recycled beverage cans have higher collection rates," he said. "[We need] education first, then putting into action some deposit programs and then looking at different melting technologies to make the process simpler as you look to extract aluminum from other substrates or materials."

In addition, investments must be made to modernize the nation's recycling facilities for greater aluminum collection and recovery.

"Some of the difficulties of recycling is separating material, and if you have state-of-the-art recycling facilities that can be utilized, then I think you have a better opportunity of getting those collection rates up," Roush said. "Then that aluminum gets back into the value chain to be reproduced into another product."

Roush said JW and its partners in the supply chain will start lobbying for deposit programs to increase awareness on the importance of aluminum recycling. The company will leverage the scrap processing capabilities at its main facility in Goose Creek, South Carolina, to support these efforts.

"Aluminum can be continually recycled without losing its original properties," he said. "75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today."

JW's Goose Creek facility is currently in the process of converting its operations to run fully on scrap input following an expansion at the plant last year.

"We are committed to getting as close to 100% scrap utilization as possible, and we have the plans and team in place to make sure that we do everything we can to use the most recycled content in our products as possible," Roush said.