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Library: Ever Wonder How Planes Are Recycled
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Ever Wonder How Planes Are Recycled?

January 2017


This fascinating video shows how a decommissioned Lockheed C-141 Starlifter is transformed into aluminum chips and other components which will go on to be recycled into new assemblies.

The remnants of this plane will not end up in aluminum extrusions however, as the alloys are quite different. Yet the process – of dismantling aluminum items at end of life and then recycling them into new extruded components – is the same.

A recent Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) initiated by the AEC documents the extent of recycling in the North American extrusion industry. Eleven AEC members, with nearly 100 presses and representing over one-third of North American soft-alloy production, supplied the data for the LCA. In addition to detailing the environmental impact of the North American industry, the Analysis showed that for the study year of 2015, over 54% of the raw material used was recycled content. Apply that to the total raw material used in the North American extrusion industry and you have over 3.5 billion pounds of recycled material being used each year!

So where does this recycled content come from? It’s not from here:

Recycling truckIt is not from siding, or gutters or beverage cans or engine blocks. As with plane parts, the alloys are different and don’t lend themselves to recycling for extrusion.

About 75% of the recycled content going into extrusion is considered post-industrial – scrap from the extrusion manufacturing process or the manufacturing process of extrusion customers. That would include cut-offs, damaged parts, chips from machining, etc. The remaining 25% is post-consumer scrap from products at the end of their useful lives such as automotive wheels, building entry doors, window frames, etc. (Studies have shown that 90-95% of the aluminum content in buildings and autos is recycled.)


These varying scrap streams are carefully characterized, segregated by alloy and then remelted with additional alloying elements to create the properly alloyed feedstock, or billet, for the extrusion process. And due to the elemental nature of aluminum, this process can go on again and again – without any degradation to the properties of the resulting products.

It may not be as fascinating as the dismantling of a Starlifter, but the recycling story for extrusions is a great one for the environment – minimizing greenhouse gases and landfill growth. Find out more in the Sustainability section of this website.