Copper products are hard wearing and last for a long time and will often still function long after they have been superseded by newer models. This metal can be recycled indefinitely as it does not degrade when processed. Recycling this scrap metal can reduce emissions and energy output compared to production from virgin materials as well as protect our natural resources.
Benefits of recycling copper
The economic and environmental benefits of recycling copper are given below and illustrate the sustainable nature of the metal:
Environment……During mining and refining (purification) of copper, dust and waste gases such as sulphur dioxide are produced which may have a harmful effect on the environment. Although these harmful effects are minimised by producers (sulphur dioxide is captured and used to make sulphuric acid), with recycling there are little, if any, harmful gases emitted.
Disposal of copper is often in holes in the ground – this is called landfill. These holes are rapidly being filled up and, as they become scarcer, landfill becomes a very expensive option for waste disposal (of any material).
Energy saving ……In order to extract copper from copper ore the energy required is approximately 100GJ/tonne. Recycling uses much less energy, about 10GJ/tonne, that’s only 10% of the energy needed for extraction. This energy saving leads to the conservation of valuable reserves of oil, gas or coal and reduces the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
Conservation of copper ore……To date only about 12% of known resources have been mined. However copper ore is a finite resource and it makes sense to conserve ore by recycling.
Economics……It is cheaper to recycle old copper than to mine and extract new copper. Recycled copper is worth up to 90% of the cost of the original copper. Recycling helps to keep the cost of products down.
What Happens When It’s Recycled?
When copper scrap is first received for recycling, it is inspected and graded. The scrap material is melted and in some cases brought to higher purity while molten. Chemical analysis checks the purity level. The molten copper is cast into a cake or a block for further processing.
Copper alloy scrap has to be segregated, kept clean and identified so that the alloying elements and impurity content of each batch are known. Copper alloys are then melted together into batches of known composition, some with virgin material so that the recycled material has the alloy composition desired.