The World of Metal Recycling: The Facts
Monday, 18 June 2018
How much do we really know about the metal recycling world? A competitive and established industry spanning the entire globe, it’s quite a complex subject. However, there are a lot of statistics out there worth highlighting, especially to show the sheer value that metal recycling as a whole brings to the world.
The positive contribution of metal recycling in the UK is not to be understated! The sector is a significant net contributor to balance of trade in the UK, helping to save vast amounts of energy, protect the environment and support a force of at least 10,000 British workers. It is estimated that around 10 million tonnes of scrap metal are recycled in Britain every year.
Read on to discover some our favourite insights into the effects of metal recycling in the UK, in Europe and across the world. To make things easier to read, facts and stats will be broken down by type of metal.
Aluminium is one of the most cost-effective metals to recycle, delivering huge energy savings in comparison to manufacturing from scratch. Like most metals, aluminium can be recycled limitlessly without losing any of its beneficial properties. As a result, recycled aluminium is used in a vast range of applications including construction, vehicle manufacturing, electronic appliances and more.
- An estimated 75% of all aluminium ever made continues in circulation to this day
- The recycling of aluminium uses 95% less energy than when it is produced using raw materials
- Recycling one tonne of aluminium saves eight tonnes of raw bauxite and nine tonnes of CO2 emissions
- Recycling a single aluminium can save enough energy to power a 100-watt lightbulb for up to four hours
- An aluminium can could be recycled eight times in a year, saving enough energy for 160 new cans to be produced
Like many other metals, copper can also be recycled endlessly without loss of performance. Premium-grade scrap copper holds around 95% of its value compared to the original primary metal, earning a popular reputation for its substantial recycling value. With global demand booming by 250% since 1960, you will find recycled copper used in a wide variety of places. This includes building materials such as roofing and cladding, transport such as trains and cars, also finding its way into coins, cookware, sculptures and musical instruments. Due to its conductive properties, however, the vast majority (65%) is used in electrical applications.
- Recycling copper saves a huge amount of energy: as much as 85% compared to manufacturing the metal from scratch
- An estimated 80% of all copper ever mined from the earth is still being used today
- Use of scrap copper reduces global CO2 emissions by approximately 65%
- Roughly 42% of the copper used in Europe comes from recycled sources
Zinc is the fourth most commonly-used metal in industry (after iron, aluminium and copper). It is easily recycled and utilised most often as part of vital alloys such as brass, with 50% seeing end use in galvanizing processes. The average car, for example, contains up to 10kg of zinc in its galvanised body parts. When the car is discarded, these zinc-containing panels can be completely recycled and turned into parts of equal quality. Zinc and its compounds are also prevalent in products like batteries, paints, sun-cream and more.
- Production of zinc through recycling uses 76% less energy than through primary extraction processes
- Over 90% of the world’s zinc production comes from blended ores containing other valuable metals like lead and copper
- Between 30% and 40% of the world’s zinc supply is sourced from old scrap (1.4m tonnes), and new scrap/residues (1.5m tonnes)
- Nearly 70% of zinc in end-of-life products is recycled
- Production of brass and bronze accounts for 17% of zinc’s end use
Steel is perhaps the most recycled metal in the world, including the UK. This is no surprise when you learn that tin cans consist of 99% steel (originally known as ‘tinned’ cans). Consider, also, that roughly 70% of a car’s weight comes from the steel in its body. The scrap car recycling process, whereby a magnet separates steel items from plastic and non-ferrous metals from a rolling conveyor belt, retrieves tonnes of steel in the UK every year. This process also contributes to significant conservation of fossil fuels, energy and greenhouse gases.
- The recycling of steel helps to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% compared to manufacturing new steel from raw materials
- Steel recycling processes also decrease water consumption by 40% and water pollution by 76%
- Much of the recycled steel processed in the UK is exported to outside markets – around 75%, in fact
- Recycling seven steel cans saves enough energy to power a 60-watt lightbulb for over 24 hours
- Almost every new car body you encounter is made up of around 25% recycled steel
Lead, like other metals, is well-suited for a circular economy, able to be recycled infinitely without loss of quality. This metal has one of the highest recycling rates worldwide, as well – higher than aluminium, copper or zinc as well as commonly-recycled items like newspaper or glass.
- It is estimated that over half of the lead in circulation today has been used before in a different product
- Around 80% of lead is used for acid batteries, with some countries boasting battery recycling rates of over 95%
- Using recycled and secondary lead reduces CO2 emissions by 99% compared to traditional processes
Scrap tin is another vital source of metal in various industries, with recycling rates and technologies spreading rapidly. The vast majority of tin is utilised in plating and soldering, as well as being reused in alloys such as brass and bronze. With a relatively low recycling rate worldwide, however – at only 8% – there’s still a lot of room for improvement with this metal!
- Recycling tin saves 2,600kWh of energy per tonne, on average
- One tonne of recycled tin prevents mining of approximately 1.5 tonnes of tin ore
- Compared to creating it from scratch, recycling of tin uses around 99% less energy
As you can see, virtually every metal can be recycled and reused as new material in vital items or products. In fact, scrap metal manufacturing as an industry has proven to be resistant to notable economic pressures, establishing itself as an essential contributor to the global economy. The benefits – in terms of cost savings, efficiencies, and reducing our environmental impact – are clearly demonstrated by the facts and figures. In the UK alone, the scrap metal industry is valued at over £5.6 billion annually.
So, when you’ve got the option to trade in your car for scrap or reuse a vehicle’s spare parts, know that you are assisting with a worldwide effort that significantly reduces pollution and resource consumption while supplying the raw materials for the items we all use every day.