A Copper Mine at our Fingertips: Europe Recycles Copper to Meet Society’s Needs
- 21 May 2012
- Company & Industry News
According to the International Copper Study Group (ICSG) report published today, 44.8% of the copper used in Europe comes from recycling1. As well as setting a new record, this reveals our copper requirements are increasingly being met by recycling. This win-win situation is helping to supply our ever-increasing demand for the metal (+250% since the 1960s) while, at the same time, lessening the environmental impact of its production and ensure its availability for generations to come. A computer contains 1.5 kg of copper, a typical home2 about 100 kg and a wind turbine 5 tons.
Considering copper can be fully recycled and reused again and again, without any loss of performance, we have every incentive to ensure our products and copper waste are correctly processed when they reach the end of their useful lives. After all, the copper from one's smartphone could end up as part of the water system in one's home!
The ICSG figure of 44.8% is a level of recycling not seen since the turn of the millennium. Furthermore, it also puts Europe way ahead of the global average of 33.8%. Recycling has become an important part of the supply chain, keeping resources local, employing local jobs, saving on landfill, incentivising the recycling of other materials.
In 2010, 2.25 million tons of copper were reused – a rise of 14% in one year, coming from end-of-life products and directly recycled factory waste (direct melt). This increased recycling of copper is being driven by the growth in use of the metal within the European society. Copper is omnipresent in the equipment modern life depends upon more and more, namely high-tech products, electrical installations, engines, solar systems and smart buildings.
Since the mid-1960s, global demand for refined copper has increased by over 250% (from 5 million to 18 million tons). Mine production remains vital in order to meet this growing demand. Ensuring that sufficient copper will be available to meet society's future needs will require increased levels of recovery and recycling, as well as substantial investments in mining.
The 1.5 kg of copper reclaimed from an old computer can be used to produce an incredible 4 metres of pipe. This simple principle is attributable to one key fact: the total recyclability of copper. In contrast to other materials, copper can be collected, re-smelted and reused an infinite number of times with no loss of its properties. Recycled copper is the same as copper sourced from mine production.
All the copper contained in our equipment can therefore be recycled, which, given the rate at which Europeans get through copper-containing products, constitutes a considerable reserve. A car, for example, contains between 25 and 50 kg of copper while a high-speed train needs a whopping 10 tons. All of this copper, including that which has already been recycled, will be reusable again and again. In our homes, it is possible for water pipes, sheets used for roofing and contemporary copper façades to be made from 100% recycled material.
1) International Copper Study Group, Annual Recyclables Survey (2003-2010 period), April 2012
2) Single-storey family home with surface area of 91 m²
A flow diagram showing the copper recycling process and high-resolution scrap images are available on request.