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Why Copper Recycling is Important to the Environment

September 21, 2016

Most people don’t think about the amount of garbage they generate, or even what happens to it once it’s collected. The fact is, most garbage is taken to landfill sites, and “buried”. Needless to say, the landfill sites are filling up, and running out. And because incineration is unpopular and untenable as an alternative, recycling has become a viable option, particularly in the last decade.

With paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic, there’s plenty of media exposure, and therefore a high level of consumer understanding. But it’s not the same with copper recycling. Copper is actually everywhere:  in electrical cables, plumbing pipes, automotive waste, and copper alloys. Today, around the world, almost 50% of copper demand is satisfied with recycled copper material.

Beyond the economic benefits, copper recycling also offers countless environmental benefits. To begin with, recycling copper minimizes the need for virgin mining, processing, and refining. This on its own reduces many of the harmful effects on the environment. As well, copper that is being recycled is not going to landfill (an unsustainable option for waste disposal of any materials).

Copper recycling is considered to be “energy saving”. The process requires barely 10% of the energy that’s required to extract virgin copper ore. It means that less energy is being consumed in the form of oil, gas and coal. This consequently reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, and makes for another benefit when considering recycling over mining.

Recycling copper actually helps to maintain the market cost of copper products. This is because it’s far cheaper to recycle copper than to mine it. And cost wise, recycled copper is worth close to 90% of the original copper. For the average consumer, there’s really not much today that doesn’t contain copper – everything from cell phones, to computers, to flat screen television sets.

Because copper is so valuable in the manufacture of consumer products, recycling the waste is even more critical. Copper is the best electrical conductor of all non-precious metals, and is built into virtually every electronic product on the market. The embarrassment is that so much copper ends up in landfill – it’s basically a sign of modern consumerism and a wasteful society. 

Today, waste electronics and waste electrical equipment present a serious source of damage to the environment. This is simply because so much waste is discarded and so much is landfilled. Beyond any other environmental damage, the release of harmful substances like cadmium and mercury make for serious implications in coming years. And it can all be properly recycled.

In recent decades, product manufactures have been focusing on “sustainable product design”. It means using more and more recycled metal like copper, and generating less and less waste in the future. And with governments establishing more progressive rules and regulations for waste and recycling, the environmental landscape around the world is slowly changing for the better.

For the average consumer, a proactive approach is also important for the environment, especially with the fundamentals:  reduce – re-use – recycle.  

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