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Scrap Copper

Copper and copper alloy (those metals that have copper as a principal component) have been recycled in some manner or another for thousands of years. In times of need, especially during wartime, copper was recycled, processed, and re-used quite often. As such, scrap copper was not to be considered as waste. Rather, for the re-manufacturing of new products, it was an excellent, cost efficient raw material, much more so than virgin ore.

Today, the economic payoffs of recycling scrap copper constitute a mini economy of its own. In the electrical industry, for instance, recycled copper is processed and refined back into Grade A material, and can therefore be used almost as commonly as pure copper. In other utilizations, recycled copper is often used in plumbing and roofing products, again almost as much as pure copper. Naturally, the price of scrap copper and the cost of the recycled, remanufactured copper is almost always dependent on the purity of the product.

Quality and purity is of utmost importance. High quality scrap copper can be processed, refined and remanufactured quite simply, because there is little contamination. On the other hand, impure copper (where contamination is more significant) requires refining that is more involved, and therefore more costly, especially when Grade A material is essential for the remanufactured product. Where scrap copper is very contaminated, it’s still possible to refine it, and usually worthwhile to extract whatever useful quantities of copper are still present in the scrap.

Because of its recognized value in the market, scrap copper provides a good proportion of North America’s copper needs every year. Copper can be re-used over and over again – with a repeat rate that is higher than any other metal – bottom line, recycling copper makes abundant sense. Hard to believe, but every year the American market recovers almost as much copper from recycled scrap copper as it does from mined ore. More remarkable is the fact that, except for copper wire production, industries are making use of recycled scrap copper for almost three-quarters of their overall needs.

Most of the copper that has been mined throughout history is still in use, thanks to the recycling of scrap copper. And the future is bright – for the shipping industry, for the production of electric vehicles, even for industries associated with solar energy. Demand on all fronts is active – with building wire and copper plumbing topping market demand, and the automotive industry positioned closely behind. In today’s cars, for example, copper usage in the average North American built car is about 50 pounds, compared to the 36 pounds that were use some 35 years ago.

With competition in the market from other metals, it’s the new advances in technology, and the advent of superconductors that offer new opportunities for copper, and consequently, for the scrap copper sector. Statistics, industry data, and market indicators aside, the facts remain: most of the originally mined copper is still in circulation; industries are using scrap for practically ¾ of their needs; and North America is virtually self sufficient in terms of its overall requirements.

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