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Much ado about aluminium with Polestar O₂

When it comes to sustainability and circularity, much has been made of production. How many emissions are created during the process, how much green energy is used, how many recycled components are involved, and so on. But what’s made also needs to be both unmade and remade. Recycled materials that are of a lower quality than their original form can’t then be used for the same purposes. Sustainable? Sure. Circular? Hardly.

Labelling and colour-coding enables the recyclers to separate the different grades to recycle them individually, avoiding contamination of different grades.

Take aluminium. A popular material in the automotive world due to its strength and environmental credentials. Despite its recyclability, the process of separating aluminium is energy intensive. Recyclers receive cars in the form of a crushed cube, which is then shredded and separated with the use of magnets and other techniques.

“The car industry is a well-established source of metals for the recycling industry,” says Polestar Circular Lead Sander Jahilo. “However, only a small share of that material finds its way back to the car industry, as most of it is downcycled into lower-grade metals.”

Cars contain different grades of aluminium, each with specific attributes. Recycling plants don’t distinguish between these grades, recycling them as one material. This produces aluminium which is no longer suitable for high-grade applications.

Polestar O2 tackles this issue with an elegantly simple solution: labelled aluminium.

“Labelling and colour-coding enables the recyclers to separate the different grades to recycle them individually, avoiding contamination of different grades,” explains Jahilo. “This, in turn, leads to a closed material loop in which aluminium is recycled back to its original quality.”

Production has always been seen as a starting point. The entire point of circularity is that it no longer has to be. Time to focus more on a product’s unmaking and remaking, starting with the materials.

Time to make much ado about aluminium. 

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Polestar sustainability report 2021

Accountability is key. To combat the growing tide of greenwashing, greenhushing, and all the other buzzwords that denote a lack of transparency around sustainability work, we need to hold each other responsible. Successes and failures need to be communicated. Questions need to be asked and answers demanded. We need hard data when it comes to exactly what it is we’re doing, and what we have left to do. And when requiring these things from others, we can’t forget ourselves.

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