Copper can be recycled indefinitely as it does not degrade when processed. Recycling scrap copper can reduce emissions and energy output compared to production from virgin materials as well as protect our natural resources.
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Copper by itself or in any of its alloys is completely recyclable and can be processed over and over again with no loss of quality. Excluding wire production, which requires newly refined copper, about 75% of all copper-based products are made from recycled copper. Recycling copper can reduce the emissions and energy output compared to the mining, milling, smelting and refining of new copper material. When cooper is placed in landfill this is a waste of natural resources and economic resources – as recycled copper is worth up to 90 percent of the cost of the original copper.
Environmental Benefits of Commercial Recycling for Copper
"Everyday" and unit savings per tonne of copper1 recycled:
16,602 km driven2
3.4 tonnes CO2e
20 houses' energy for a month3
36.09 GJ LHV (10,033 kWh)
34 bath tubs4
5.97 kL water
20 wheelie bins5
For an explanation of key terms used, please visit our Glossary.
Copper is a cost-effective material to recycle and there are a numerous commercial metal recyclers in Australia that will purchase scrap for market price.
What Happens When It’s Recycled?
When copper scrap is received for recycling it is inspected and graded. Scrap material is melted and in some cases brought to higher purity while molten. Chemical analysis checks the purity level of the copper and the molten copper is cast into shape such as a cake or ingot 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. Cooper alloys are then melted together into batches of known composition, some with virgin material so that the recycled material has the alloy composition desired.
More Info & Sources
1. Data for copper (Commercial & Industrial and Construction & Demolition recycling only) contained in Table 4 (p.14) Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW (2010) Environmental Benefits of Recycling, DECCW, Sydney South
2. “Everyday” greenhouse gas emission savings expressed as number of kilometers driven by an average new passenger and light commercial vehicle (206.6g CO2e / km). National Transport Commission (2012) Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Australian Vehicles 2011 Information Paper
3. “Everyday” cumulative energy demand savings expressed as average household monthly electricity requirements (500 kWh). 1GJ LHV = 278kWh (GJ LHV = Giga-joules of fossil energy (low heating value); kWh = Kilowatt hour)
4. “Everyday” water savings corresponding to average sized bath tubs (0.175 kL capacity)
5. “Everyday” solid waste savings represented by number of average sized wheelie bins (55kg capacity)