Miracle metal

By Nick Wright

August 2011 - Of the aluminum produced during the last 100 years, 75 percent of it is still in use around the world, according to John Shegerian, CEO and co-founder of Electronic Recyclers International, Fresno, Calif., the largest e-waste recycler in the world. “Aluminum is considered both the infinite recyclable and the miracle metal,” he says, for its ability to be endlessly recycled, resmelted and reproduced.

This past March, aluminum-producing giant Alcoa, Pittsburgh, Pa., invested a stake in ERI, along with its abilities to recycle more than 160 million pounds annually of electronic waste. The stake gives both companies an opportunity to push that 75 percent even higher. Alcoa’s encyclopedic expertise on all-things aluminum combined with ERI’s fast-growing geographic footprint will help “grow and establish the required infrastructure in this country to deal with consumer electronics in an environmentally and socially effective way,” says Kevin Anton, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Alcoa.

Consumer electronics represents one of the biggest growth markets for aluminum, Anton says. Part of Alcoa’s vision isn’t just to produce the versatile metal but to commit to the framework for its recyclability, which nearly guarantees its availability. The company pioneered that concept with the aluminum can. “When Alcoa introduced the aluminum can and helped the can prosper, one of the things we did right behind that was put in an infrastructure so that the can could be recycled,” Anton adds.

Alcoa and ERI haven’t wasted time establishing their partnership, recycling not only aluminum but a facility as well. By January 2012, ERI will be the first tenant in Alcoa’s Badin, N.C., smelting facility that has sat idle since the company closed it in 2007. Until the plant, which will become ERI’s southeast regional headquarters, is retrofitted completely, ERI currently is setting up temporary digs in an adjacent facility. “The community has already embraced us, and we’re going to be providing a couple hundred new jobs there, which is, of course, important to any local economy in the U.S. right now,” says Shegerian.

Before the official stake, according to Anton, Alcoa collaborated with ERI in 2010 to develop the free Aluminate iPhone app, which, using the phone’s location features and Alcoa’s databases, tells users where they can recycle their aluminum cans nearby and how much money they can expect in redemption. “We love that. It’s so avant-garde for a 125-year-old company to have an app,” Anton says. The app now pulls data from, ERI’s popular recycling search engine.

Working with Alcoa’s real estate and logistical teams, ERI will tap into Alcoa’s international presence, Shegerian says, although nothing is slated to be announced until later this year. The companies are exploring opportunities in India, Brazil, Canada, Asia and Europe. “I don’t think it’ll be too long before you start seeing an expanded presence internationally for ERI,” Anton adds. Alcoa has operations in 31 countries, according to its website.

Urban mining
Consumer electronics—laptops, cell phones, digital cameras— aren’t only ubiquitous but also become obsolete as each generation of technology turns over on a near-annual basis. That gives Alcoa and ERI several synergies to drive sustainable practices, particularly one that both companies see as the basis for their partnership: urban mining.

“Let’s get [the aluminum] before it hits the landfill,” Anton says of urban mining. “Aluminum scrap has always had great intrinsic value, and the world is just going to have to get smarter because you can’t afford to keep throwing things out. You have to design things more effectively, put collection technology and processes in place.”

Shegerian points out that as technology and awareness in the United States about sustainability has increased, urban mining only will grow. Plus, manufacturers and OEMs of airplanes and electronics, for example, will benefit from branding their products as recycled. “It’s so perfect for the terminology and vernacular that is getting tremendous pickup as a term in the industry,” he says, noting aluminum sets the benchmark at 95 percent energy savings when it’s recycled as opposed to being created from virgin ore. “By urban mining, Alcoa doesn’t have to deplete the limited natural resources that are found below the ground."

Urban mining represents both a future and present consistent feedstock for Alcoa, Shegerian says, “which closes the cradle-to-cradle loop of what [Alcoa] is trying to accomplish in terms of recycling aluminum.”  Alcoa also will become an affiliate member of the Basel Action Network, a group of which ERI was a founding member, that is devoted to eliminating the disproportionate impact of trade in toxic chemicals and materials on developing countries, according to a press release.

“A market that effectively didn’t exist at the beginning of this century is growing rapidly for us,” Anton adds. “And we just see wonderful things coming out of this.” MM

Current Issue


October 2014

Gearing up for 2015
Tackling foreign policies, regulations, trade balances and capital plans, here are forecasts for virtually everything.





Modern Metals on Twitter

White Papers

More White Papers >

Industry Partners

Alloy Bar Products

Custom Rubber Products

Metals Distribution

Service Centers

Sierra Alloys Royal Rubber Co. ThyssenKruppnMaterials NA Heidtman Steel Products


Cutting Software

Perforated & Expanded Metal

North American Steel Alliance
Channel Alloys SigmaTEK Systems McNichols Co. Reliance Steel & Aluminum Company


Cutting Systems

Plasma Technology

Thickness Gauges

Gerdau Messer Cutting Systems, Inc. ESAB Welding & Cutting Products Compusource Corporation




Enmark Systems, Inc.
Steelmax Hougen Manufacturing, Inc. Allor Manufacturing Inc.

Stainless Steel

CNC Cutting (Plasma, Waterjet, Laser, Router)

Financial Services

Artco Group Stainless Sales Corp.
Multicam Inc. BMO Harris Bank Churchill Steel Plate Ltd Straub Metal International

Coated Coil

GE Capital Finance Ranger Steel

Stainless, Nickel, Aluminum, Pipe, Tube & Bar

American Nickeloid Metals

Investment Banking

Precision Grinding

Prudential Stainless & Alloys, L.P.
Centria Coating Services Brown Gibbons Lang & Company Joco Precision Grinding


Metal Coaters

Laser Technology

Profiling Software


Coil Processing

AltaMAR, Inc. FastCam Pty Ltd. Central Steel Service, Inc.
Bradbury Group Amada America, Inc.

Rolled and Extruded Aluminum Products

Parker Steel Co.
Braner USA LVD Strippit Aleris Rolled Products SSAB
Burghardt + Schmidt GmbH Mitsubishi Laser-MC Machinery Systems, Inc.

Sawing Technology

Summit Steel Corporation
Butech Bliss

Machining Centers

Behringer Saws, Inc.

Steel Fabrication

Formtek-Maine Handtmann CNC Cosen International, Inc. Voortman Corporation
Herr-Voss Stamco

Material Handling

Cut Technologies Metal


IMS Systems, Inc. Canrack Metal Center Systems DoALL Sawing Products TSI Titanium
Leveltek Samuel Strapping Systems HE&M Saw


Machine Concepts Steel Storage Systems Inc. Kasto Carlson Tool & Manufacturing Corp.
Red Bud Industries The Caldwell Group, Inc. Metlsaw Systems

Tube & Pipe


Metal Alloy Analysis & Verification Independence Tube Corp.

Copper & Brass

Thermo Scientific Niton Analyzers Scotchman Industries, Inc. National Tube Supply Company
Christy Metals Inc.

Metal Finishing & Deburring

Wikus Saw Technology Specialty Pipe & Tube
Farmer's Copper Supermax Tools


Turnkey Finishing System












TECHNI Waterjet


twitter facebook linkedin rss