Anyone who hasn’t been exposed to recycling until now has been “out-of-town”. Truth is, there’s not much in day-to-day life that has not been affected or influenced by recycling trends in the last two decades. It’s probable that each of us is somehow engaged in household recycling already – like paper, glass, and various domestic metals – and it’s also probable that all that waste material is being collected at the curbside. But not many of us give much thought to recycling copper.
It’s truly amazing how much copper is built into everything that surrounds us. The faucets in the bathroom and kitchen contain copper; the indoor and outdoor water pipes are made of 100% copper; and virtually all electric wires and cables contain large amounts of copper. When all of these materials are ready for the garbage, perhaps due to refurbishing, renovating or rebuilding, the garbage dump is NOT the place to go. All of these copper-laden materials are just too valuable to be trashed and loaded in heaps into a landfill.
Copper can be fully recycled, and the recovered metal can be used to fabricate brand new copper products. In fact, recycled copper has the same properties as copper from “virgin” sources (in other words, copper ore that has been mined and refined). And while it’s satisfying that copper recycling is considered to be an “eco-friendly” endeavor, the market demand for the metal is what drives the industry. There is a growing need for recycled copper product around the world, especially since many nations are on the hunt for raw materials.
As it stands today, about 60% of the world’s copper is sourced through mining – it’s extracted directly from the earth, processed, refined, and ready for manufacturing. The remaining 40% is sourced through recycling: some of it from the tons and tons of “end-of-life” products; some of it from masses of manufacturing waste; and some of it from local and domestic collections. (The largest copper mining nation in the world is Chile, producing around 35% of the world's copper).
Needless to say, with global demand for copper ever increasing, the need for mining is an absolute necessity. However, it’s critical and vital for recycled copper to play a greater and greater role in the supply/demand dynamic. There has to be more emphasis on conserving the world’s “virgin” ores; energy consumption associated with processing and refining must be decreased; and quite importantly, the landfill disposal of waste metals must be curtailed.
To say that most countries in the west are wasteful is an understatement. We know, for example, that some 65% of manufactured copper is used in a variety of electrical applications, like motors and generators, air-con systems and household appliances. Just imagine the waste when we dump our computers, our television sets, and our smart phones. And that doesn’t include all the fridges, stoves and dryers we trash every year. It amounts to millions of tons of potential copper for recycling.
In the end, it comes down to the basics – we have to REDUCE the amount of waste we generate; we need to REUSE things as much as we can; and we must RECYCLE wherever and whenever possible.