Cf the copper flow model, copper is recycled as "scrap from fabrication" or "as collected & separated into various end-of-life scrap streams". On an annual basis, these two flows combined produce about 8 - 9 million tonnes of secondary raw copper materials to complement the 20 million tonnes of copper being mined. Schematically, these secondary streams split into "low grade copper scrap for smelting & refining" (the "secondary route") and "directly melted high grade copper scrap" (the "scrap route").
Typical values for energy and greenhouse gas savings for these routes, compared to primary production, can only be given as a range. It depends on the product, composition and recycling route. The following table gives some indicative numbers:
|(compared to primary production)||Secondary route||Scrap route|
|Energy saving||-50% ... -65%||-80% ... -90%|
|Greenhouse gas savings||-60% ... -70%||-85% ... -95%|
In practice, the flow of secondary resources in the copper value chain is more complex, cf the diagram below. For example, cf the lower right corner, there is an internal scrap loop within foundries and fabricators. In addition, some end-use scrap is used in primary smelters for temperature control.
As some of our colleagues like to say, "Copper can always be recycled unless it leaves our planet!" And recycling always saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions, though the level of savings can differ. Last but not least, copper produced through the secondary route is indistinguishable from primary copper production. Copper can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality, and it can even be upcycled under the right conditions.
- https://www.kupferinstitut.de/kupfer-komplett-wiederverwendbar-recycling-entscheidet-ueber-oekobilanz-beim-bauen/ (checked November 26, 2021)
- Copper Environmental Profile: https://copperalliance.org/sustainable-copper/about-copper/copper-environmental-profile/ (checked November 26, 2021)
Last update: May 29, 2023