Circular Copper: Building a Culture of Sustainability

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With its infinite life cycle, copper is a truly circular material that can be recycled over and over with no loss of its physical properties. With a global shift toward renewable resources and decarbonization, copper will play a key role in sustainable development. International Copper Association (ICA) members are invested in circular practices to meet future demand, close copper’s loop and increase recycling rates.

Join ICA and its members in building a culture of sustainability—without waste.

Did you know?

Each person generates 270 kilograms, or 595 pounds, of waste annually. By 2050, experts expect this figure to grow 70 percent. That is more than double the population growth in the same period!

Copper’s recyclability contributes to resource conservation, urban mining and recycling initiatives. Recycled copper already meets more than 30 percent of global copper demand. The current global end-of-life recycling rate for copper is 40 percent. In some parts of the world, such as the EU, China and Japan, more than half of all copper is recycled after use.

Future demand requires primary and secondary materials

Copper is essential to the green revolution. Renewable energy technology, like solar and wind power, as well as electric vehicles, rely on copper for efficient performance. With global decarbonization targets, ambitious climate change policies and shifts to renewable resources, both primary and secondary (scrap material) copper will be needed to meet demand.

According to the World Bank, even a 100 percent end-of-life recycling rate for metals would not be enough to meet the growing demand for clean energy technologies. The long service life of copper products also limits the availability of secondary resources. Initiatives in urban mining and responsible waste management are of tantamount importance to copper recovery in the value chain.

ICA’s contributions to the circular economy

New research by Fraunhofer ISI, commissioned by ICA, reviews the potential of Urban Mining, which considers cities, electronic waste and infrastructure as a source of raw materials. Annually, 24 million tonnes of copper enter the global urban mine, while an additional 13 million reach the end-of-life phase and become available for recycling. Furthermore, all the copper used for wiring homes and buildings in the last 30 – 40 years is still in use and recoverable, holding considerable social and economic value.

ICA members are using innovative technology to efficiently recycle valuable raw materials, such as introducing scrap metals into the smelting process. ICA is working with Sustainable Recycling Industries and other groups to track and quantify scrap material flows across the global supply chain—an important step in improving recycling rates.

By ensuring that copper stays in the loop, the copper industry, with the support of policy makers, wider enterprise and consumers, can avoid unnecessary waste.

Partnering for change

Society must treat waste as a resource. Urban mines provide an abundance of secondary raw materials that can be recovered and recycled. To maximize the potential of the urban mine in conjunction with the circular economy, communities need to develop a combination of adequate local infrastructure, skill development and positive market conditions. Together, the copper industry alongside committed partners can create a culture of responsibility, positive change and smart creation without waste.

  • PRODUCT DESIGNERS – Product designers can design for sustainability to facilitate recovery of metals when the product is ultimately recycled.
  • SUPPLIERS AND MANUFACTURERS – Suppliers and manufacturers must work together to establish close-loop recycling streams for metal scraps generated during manufacturing.
  • CONSUMERS – Well-informed customers play a key role in assuring end-of-life products are collected for recycling, rather than sent to the landfill.
  • RECYCLERS – Recyclers are investing in cutting-edge technologies to recover 20+ metals from complex copper products.

LinkedIn Live event

Circular Copper: Building a Culture of Sustainability Without Waste
The International Copper Association hosted a panel discussion focusing on the world’s concerted shift to the sustainable use of resources and development of the circular economy. Expert speakers from Glencore, Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) and the Copper Development Association came together to explore the future of urban mining and the role of the copper industry in global recycling initiatives.

Learn more about urban mining and the circular economy

Urban Mining: The next step in a climate-friendly American economy
Urban Mining: The next frontier in the circular economy?

Mining has changed. Learn more about global mining innovations from ICA's members.