The Sustainable Use of Copper Explained

It is true that much of the Earth's copper ore remains in the ground waiting to be extracted. However, much of it is in hard to get to locations, and it is, when all is said and done, a finite resource which will run out eventually. Used in anything from electrical cabling to plumbing, copper is incredibly useful and should be recycled at every opportunity. Not only does this mean preserving the available resource but it also results in lowering overall energy consumption. Globally, in the region of 30 percent of all copper is sourced from recycled material. What are the environmental gains of ensuring that as much of this useful scrap metal is recycled as possible? 

Fewer Waste Gases

When new copper is mined, it needs to be purified. The ore that is extracted is rarely of a sufficient quality to be immediately put into any industrial or manufacturing applications. As such, a refining process is called for. This creates plenty of waste material, such as copper dust. In addition, gases like sulphur dioxide are generated as a result of the refining processes. This is bad for the environment, even if some of the wasted sulphur dioxide can be captured to make industrial acids from. On the other hand, a recycling plant does not need to refine the scrap copper it receives meaning that little or no noxious gas is produced when reprocessing it.

The Economic Cost of Landfill

If copper is not recycled, then it will end up going into the normal waste disposal system. In most places around the globe, this means one thing – landfill. Because of the increased focus on land use and on recycling generally, there is a cost associated with everything that ends up going into a landfill site. Heavier items end up costing more and copper falls into this category. Given that it has an economic value when recycled, the costs associated with its disposal are completely unwarranted.

Reduced Energy Consumption

It takes less energy to recycle copper than it does to extract new ore from the ground. Estimates range, but even the most efficient copper ore extraction processes require about 100 Gigajoules of energy to be used for every tonne of copper that is created. When it comes to recycled copper, the energy usage is around one-tenth of that figure, even taking into account the energy consumption used for transporting it around.