Sustainability Spotlight: Copper Recycling

March 23, 2015

Olin Brass - Copper Recycling

Copper was the first metal put to use by mankind, and almost certainly the first to be recycled. How can we know that? Because as precious as it’s been to human progress over the millennia, copper has also proven to be remarkably easy – and economical – to recover and reuse. So easy, in fact, that as much as 80% of the copper ever mined – over 10,000 years worth – is still in use today.

Some other interesting facts about copper recycling:

  • Copper is the third most recycled metal by volume, behind iron and aluminum.
  • Processing recycled copper requires much less energy – as much as 90% less – than extracting new copper from virgin ore.
  • Recycled copper is also nearly as valuable as virgin copper. Premium-grade scrap typically retains 95% of the value of copper extracted from newly mined ore.
  • In 2010, U.S. recyclers processed nearly 4 billion pounds for domestic use and export, accounting for roughly half of all copper produced.
  • Roughly half of domestic recycled copper comes from process scrap (e.g. chips, machine turnings) while the other half is recovered from post-consumer materials such as car radiators, old plumbing and electrical cable.

As you might expect, recycling is vitally important to Olin Brass and our parent company, GBC.

  • In fiscal 2013, some 88% of GBC’s source materials came from scrap metals.
  • Almost 70% of the externally sourced metal used by Olin Brass in 2013 was recycled – including 133.6 million pounds of dealer scrap and 56.7 million pounds of customer scrap.

Perhaps most remarkable is that after 10,000 years of human use, copper is still an extremely abundant element. According to the Copper Development Association, only 12% of the planet’s total copper resources have been tapped to date. And considering that today it’s actually cheaper to recycle copper than to mine it, copper may well be the most recyclable substance known to man.

For more information about copper recycling, check out the recycling section of the Copper Development Association’s website: http://www.copper.org/environment/lifecycle