Copper has been used by civilisations for more than 10,000 years. It has also been recycled since the beginning. Copper is a durable metal that does not deteriorate during recycling. It could have been used thousands of years ago to make objects. Scrap metal collectors and businesses that recycle scrap metal are highly interested in copper. Nonferrous metals are the best conductors of electricity, apart from silver. Its electrical and thermal conductivity along with its properties of high ductility, malleability, and other properties make it a highly sought-after metal in industry. Iron and aluminum are the only two that can match this.
Since over 10,000 years, copper has been recycled and used by humans. A pendant dating back to 87000 BC was found in northern Iraq. Copper was first used as a substitute to stone around 8000 B.C. By 4000 B.C. Egyptians had begun heating and casting copper into various shapes. The technology of copper processing grew as the process for smelting ores became more accessible. This was around 3500 B.C.
Ancient Romans used copper from the Mediterranean island of Cypress. The highly sought-after ore was called “aes Cyprium”, which translated into English as “metal from Cyprus”. The name was later changed to cyprium and then to coprum. This term was the basis of the English word “copper”.
Copper Recycling and its Environmental Impact
Copper is an essential trace element and is vital for animal and plant health. A moderately high level of copper exposure is not associated to health risks.
Recycling copper has many environmental benefits, just like other metals. These benefits include solid waste diversion and reduced energy requirements for processing. They also conserve natural resources. Recycled copper is as energy-efficient as new copper, with a processing time of as little as 85 to 90 percent. Copper is not a renewable resource in terms of conservation. However, only 12% have been used. Copper reserves in the United States are estimated to be 1.6 billion tonnes. Production is concentrated in Arizona and Utah, New Mexico as well as Nevada and Montana.
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Around 99% of the country’s production comes from 20 mines.
Copper’s use in increasing production of electrical goods, which still have low recycling rates, is a new environmental problem. However, this trend is changing in the positive direction of electronics recycling initiatives.
Copper Recycling: Economic Importance
The United States ranks second in copper production to Chile, but is almost entirely self-sufficient when it comes to copper supply. The United States produces approximately 8% of all world’s copper production. However, almost half of the U.S. copper production comes from recycled material. U.S. recycling companies processed 1.8 million tonnes of copper in 2010 for domestic and export. This is second only to aluminum, which saw 4.6 millions tonnes recycled.
A little over half of the recycled copper scrap is made up of new scrap recovery, including machine turnings and chips. The rest are old post-consumer wastes like old radiators and electrical cable.
Where can I find copper for recycling?
An important source of scrap metal for the collector is copper flashing, old radiators and plumbing work. It is important to extract copper from buildings. The following estimates are made:
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- For houses, estimates for a 2,100-square-foot residence
- 195 pounds – building wire
- 151 Pounds – Plumbing tube, fittings and valves
- 24 pounds – plumbers’ brass goods
- 47 pounds – built-in appliances
- 12 pounds – builders hardware
- 10 Pounds – Other wire and tube
- An apartment measuring 1,000 square feet
- 125 pounds – building wire
- 82 Pounds – Plumbing tube, fittings and valves
- 20 pounds – plumbers’ brass goods
- 38 pounds – built-in appliances
- 6 pounds – builders hardware
- 7 pounds – Other wire and tube
- For residential appliances:
- 52 Pounds – Unitary Air Conditioner
- 48 Pounds – Unitary Heat Pump
- 0 pounds – dishwasher
- 8 pounds – refrigerator/freezer
- Clothes washer – 4.4 Pounds
- 7 pounds – dehumidifier
- 3 pounds – disposer
- 0 pounds – clothes dryer
- 3 pounds – range