Copper and Recycling
Recycling is an important economic activity with significant environmental benefits. Not only does recycling copper result in more efficient use of natural resources, it also results in energy savings and a reduction of waste sent to landfills. Because copper can be reused, the wealth of this natural resource can be preserved for future generations.
People have put copper to use for over 10,000 years. For all of these millennia, we have always taken advantage of copper’s recyclability. The Colossus of Rhodes is said to have been made of copper. No trace of it remains today since it was recycled centuries ago to make artifacts. Copper implements and ornaments fashioned by ancient craftsmen have been reused time and again to make new implements and ornaments.
- Copper is 100% recyclable and virtually all products made from copper can be recycled.
- At least 80% of all copper ever mined is still in existence
- Much of the copper used in the world comes from recycled sources.
- Copper is recyclable at all stages of a product’s life cycle.
- Copper-based products can last for decades: Roofing and other architectural copper products can last over 100 years.
- Assuming an average life span of 30 years for most copper products, copper’s true recycling rate has been calculated to be about 80-85%.
Each year in the U.S.A., nearly as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is derived from newly mined ore. Copper can be recycled without any loss of quality (chemical or physical properties). In some instances, recycled copper can be re-melted and used without further processing. Excluding wire production, most of which uses newly refined copper, more than three-fourths of the amount used by copper and brass mills, ingot makers, foundries, powder plants and other industries comes from recycled scrap.
Almost half of all recycled copper scrap is old post-consumer scrap, such as discarded electric cable, junked automobile radiators and air conditioners, or even ancient Egyptian plumbing. (Yes, it’s been around that long.) The remainder is new scrap, such as chips and turnings from screw machine production.
Mineral Extraction Jobs are Unsustainable Jobs
Although copper is highly recyclable, it is a non-renewable natural resource, meaning that it is finite. When an ore deposit is gone the jobs are gone, too. In the 1980’s and 1990’s copper production in Arizona increased 50% while direct employment in the copper industry decreased by the same amount. The copper industry is constantly investing in labor saving technology with the intent of cutting their most vulnerable cost variable: the production worker. As production and labor productivity increase, industry profits soar. As direct employment decreases, more of this profit leaves the communities which provide the natural resources and labor force.
A mine at Rosemont Ranch in the Santa Rita Mountains may provide about 400 jobs, some of which may last 10 to 20 years. However, many of the jobs would be very short term as the mine moves through construction and operation phases of the mine. It is impossible to project the effects of increased labor productivity on mining employment two decades from now, but patterns suggest that employment will continue to drop in relation to production.
The Truth About Copper
Submitted by Marshall Magruder, June 28th, 2010 to the Arizona Daily Star
You article, “Rosemont stressing copper’s greenness” included a Rosemont Copper flier “How Rosemont Fits into the Green Economy.” There are some corrections to Rosemont Copper’s position that need to be made.
Rosemont says: “New transmission lines for renewable energy will require millions of tons of copper.” Transmission lines today use NO COPPER. Aluminum is used because it is lighter—requiring fewer poles, stronger because steel-reinforced, and cheaper. Aluminum, not copper, is most commonly used in powerlines to customers and in their homes and buildings.
Rosemont Copper’s line about “millions of tons of copper” is also a gross overstatement. According to the Copper Development Association, the total 2009 US copper production was 1,299,000 tons, much less than the “millions of tons.” Any new mine would not produce anywhere near “millions of tons,” nor is that much needed.
Further, the statement about solar photovoltaic panels, such as the girl in the ad is holding, is also misleading. Silicon is the primary resource in photovoltaic panels. The frames are aluminum. Very little copper is used.
Turbines in coal, gas, and nuclear power plants are made of steel, not copper. The electric generators usually have copper wire around iron or steel magnetic material. This is true for any power source.
Let’s avoid false and erroneous statements. Rosemont Copper should retract their misleading, to say the least, statements.
Please see the Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers to verify that transmission; distribution and feeder lines and solar panels do NOT use copper.