How to Recycle Aluminum Lithographic Plates

Sean Grimsby

Lithography is the process of printing from a flat sheet from which ink is repelled, except for areas where it is meant to be transferred to the printed surface, such as paper. That flat surface now is usually in the form of thin aluminum plates. In most cases, these plates are not reusable over time, and it is common for some commercial print shops to go through more than 100 hundred plates each day. Due to these factors plus the ease of recycling aluminum, recycling of aluminum lithographic plates is common.

Offset lithography uses four plates or more for full-color printing.
  1. Weigh the aluminum lithographic plates that you have to be recycled.

  2. Search for scrap metal recycling firms in your area by using a online recycling locator such as Earth911 or a scrap metal company locator such as Junk Metal Scrap.

  3. Contact each scrap metal business in your area. Let its representative know how many used plates you have by weight and ask for a quote. Also ask about its process for retrieval; many firms will come to you to pick up your used plates for free if you have enough of them or are on its normal pickup route. If not, it will tell you where the plates can be weighed and dropped off. Most firms will be able to let you know how much they will pay you for your used plates on the spot. The price depends on many factors including how much they are currently receiving for the raw metal, so it may not remain consistent over time.

  4. Prepare the plates for pickup or drop-off. Most scrap metal firms will require that the plates be free of any foreign material, such as paper or plastic, so if your plates have been tagged, the tags will need to be removed. Many will also specify that they must be free of excessive ink, so if your plates were not washed up well, you may need to clean them with lithographic plate cleaner or solvent and a rag. Do not reuse these rags for any other purpose besides plate cleaning in the future.

  5. Tip

    You should be able to set up an account with the firm you choose for monthly pickup and payment if you are doing this for a print shop that generates upwards of a few pounds of plates per month. Thereafter, there will be no need to call for pickup, it will simply show up each month. Most scrap metal firms have a scale on their trucks and will weigh your plates and write you a receipt on the spot to ensure fairness.