A Comprehensive Guide To Copper Recycling

Jun 5, 2020 | Recycling

Copper is an element and mineral, important for your everyday life. Copper is considered a key industrial metal due to the malleability, resistance to corrosion, high ductility, and electrical and thermal conductivity. When metals used in the United States are considered, copper ranks third, right behind iron and aluminum. If you are asking the question can you recycle copper, the answer is yes. Copper recycling is extremely important and valuable.

History of Copper

The use of copper dates back more than 10,000 years. The question of can you recycle copper was answered during the early days when the discovery was made that no degradation occurs during recycling. Both recycling businesses and collectors value scrap metal. The only metal capable of conducting electricity better than copper is silver. The attributes of copper have ensured it is one of the most valuable metals in the industry.

Copper was first used in roughly 87000 BC. In 8000 BC, copper became a viable replacement for stone. Egyptians began heating and shaping copper in 4000 BC. As technology improved, the discovery of smelting ores was the very beginning of the Bronze Age. Ancient Romans used copper from Cypress in the Mediterranean. During this time, copper was referred to as Cyprus, or the metal of Cyprus. Eventually, copper was called coprum, which means copper in English.

Recycling copper is an excellent way to save energy, and help the environment. You can recycle almost any metal. Copper accounts for 34.6 percent of the solid waste currently recycled. Due to the urgency of recycling copper throughout the world, you may be wondering can you recycle copper?

Why is Recycling Copper Difficult?

There are several different answers to the question, why is recycling copper difficult? The most common answer is the complexity of the recycling process. There are numerous important steps for copper recycling. Once you understand how the process works, you may realize the importance of your recycling efforts. The process begins when you begin gathering copper scraps and items containing copper at home.

Once your scrap copper has been collected, the next step is sorting the copper. There are different machines used for copper recycling including the copper granulator and copper stripping machine. The correct machine for processing is dependent on the type of copper such as single wires and copper cables. The copper is then sent to a smelting facility for melting.

The copper is heated in a furnace until the metal becomes molten, then formed into the items required. Once the copper has hardened, a machine is used for rolling the metal into smooth sheets. This is the beginning of making new materials. Another answer to why is recycling copper difficult is the process requires training and experience to be performed correctly.

Recycled copper does not lose its basic characteristics such as strength and malleability. This means the recycled product is as good as new copper. Copper recycling is an important resource for numerous countries, but the process begins with consumers and businesses understanding the importance of recycling.

Environmental and Economic Importance of Copper Recycling

Copper recycling offers significant benefits to the environment including the reduction in energy required for processing, conserving natural resources, and decreasing the amount of solid waste sent to landfills. In regards to recycling copper, the following statistics must be considered.

  • 85 to 90 percent less energy is required for recycling copper than new processing.
  • As a resource, copper is non-renewable.
  • The known copper reserves in the United States are about 1.6 billion metric tons.
  • 12 percent of all copper reserves have already been consumed.
  • 90 percent of the production of domestic copper comes from just 20 mines.
  • Copper in the United States is mined in Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

Another answer to the question of why is recycling copper difficult is the environmental challenges. As the production of electrical products increases, low recycling rates result due to the confusion regarding how much energy is actually required. You may realize copper recycling efforts are gaining momentum because people are learning recycling is kinder to the environment than mining, and processing copper ore.

Approximately eight percent of the copper used throughout the world is produced in the United States. The number one producer of copper is Chile. Roughly 50 percent of all copper currently produced in the United States is derived from recycled copper. A little more than 50 percent of recycled copper is derived from machine and chip turnings. The rest comes from electrical cables, plumbing tubes, and radiators.

Copper Grades

Prior to understanding the value of recycled copper, you need to know the different grades. These grades directly correlate to the value. You can learn more about the different grades and markets here.

Bare Bright Copper

Bare Bright Copper is the most valuable grade. The name is derived from the bright and bare appearance. Copper wiring in this category must be a minimum of 16 gauge. You may have heard this grade called Bright and Shiny Copper. This grade must not be mixed or combined with any other metal including zinc or tin. To qualify, the copper must not have any tarnish.

#1 Copper

#1 Copper is the second most valuable. This grade must be unalloyed and clean. The difference is clean copper tubing is included in #1 Copper. The tubing must not have any materials decreasing the quality of the metal, paint, solder marks or insulation. Even if your copper tubing has minimal oxidation, it can be classified as #1 Copper provided there is no corrosion.

#2 Copper

#2 Copper is the third most valuable for copper recycling. This type of copper is generally dirtier than the other two grades. Copper with various imperfections, solder marks, and paint still qualify. The copper can have a higher oxidation level than #1 Copper. Most of the copper obtained from businesses for copper recycling is #2 Copper. This grade is different from the ones above because copper fittings and ends are included.

#1 Insulated Wire

#1 Insulated Wire is the fourth most valuable for copper recycling. This grade includes all clean copper cables and wires a minimum of 16 gauge. Your copper must be in fairly good condition, unalloyed and clean. You do not have to remove the insulation to qualify for this grade. Doing so is recommended to qualify as Bare Bright Copper. This will increase the price you receive for your copper recycling.

#2 Insulated Wire

#2 Insulated Wire is the fifth, and last grade for copper recycling. This grade includes a mixture of copper with plastic insulation and unalloyed copper wire. If your copper wires are not a minimum of 16 gauge, your copper will not qualify as #2 Insulated Wire. The difference is, you can recycle copper coated with other metals such as tin or nickel provided your coating is not extreme.

Every copper recycling center has slightly different specifications. The final answer to the question of why is recycling copper difficult is the confusion regarding which types of copper qualify for each grade. When asking can you recycle copper, despite the answer being yes, you must consider the different grade.

Benefits of Copper Recycling

Copper is 100 percent recyclable with numerous benefits. The top three benefits are defined below.

  • Copper recycling decreases the cost of landfills. When your copper is not recycled, it takes up space in landfills.
  • Copper recycling decreases the energy necessary to produce copper by up to 85 percent. Copper is finite, meaning recycling conserves copper ore.
  • The more copper you recycle the more you protect the environment by decreasing the need for refining and mining copper. Mining requires energy, fossil fuels and time. Refining copper releases toxic gases including dust and sulphur dioxide into the environment. To learn more about recycling copper scraps, visit Your text to link….

Most Common Questions Regarding Copper

Q: Can You Recycle Copper?

A: The answer is a definite yes.

Q: Why is Recycling Copper Preferable to Extracting?

A: Recycling copper is less expensive than mining and extracting. Only 15 percent of the energy required to mine and extract copper is necessary to recycle a ton of copper. You can help conserve the copper supply available, while decreasing emissions of carbon dioxide by recycling.

Q: Is There a Shortage of Copper?

A: Although there is currently no shortage of copper, the demand is consistently increasing. Unless technology enables economic copper mining, there is a possibility of a copper shortage in the future.

Q: Where is the Most Copper Mined?

A: The majority of copper comes from open-pit mines located in Chile, New Mexico and Utah. Chile is responsible for exporting almost 33 percent of the copper used worldwide. Copper is also obtained in Peru and Indonesia.

Q: What Happens After Copper is Recycled?

A: Old materials made from copper are melted down prior to being formed into new products.

Q: Is There A Lot of Copper Remaining?

A: There are approximately 5.8 trillion pounds of copper known throughout the world. Throughout history, 12 percent or 0.7 trillion pounds have already been mined. Due to the high rate of copper recycling, the majority of this copper is still in use.

Q: Can Copper be Recycled More Than Once?

A: Since copper can be recycled an infinite number of times, the answer is yes. Many experts believe some pennies contain copper dating back to the Egyptian pharaohs. This is the reason copper is referred to as the most reusable resource on the planet.

Copper Fun Facts

Fact 1

The first metal ever worked by humans was copper in addition to meteoritic iron and gold. These are among the few existing in a natural state. This means a fairly pure form of the metal was obtainable through nature. Copper has been used for over 10,000 years. An ax was made in 3300 BCE for Otzi the Iceman.

When the ax was found, the head was made of almost pure copper. High levels of arsenic were detected in the hair of the iceman. This may be an indication he was directly involved with the process of smelting copper.

Fact 2

Alloys are formed with copper and other metals. The two you may have heard about are bronze created with tin and copper, or brass created with zine and copper. There are currently hundreds of copper alloys in existence.

Fact 3

The metallic-reddish coloring of copper is unique. The only other metal listed on the periodic table as a non-silvery metal is gold. When copper is added to gold, the result is rose gold or red gold.

Fact 4

Copper is used as a natural antibacterial agent. Brass is often used for door handles located in public buildings to help prevent the transmission of disease. Copper is not toxic for invertebrates, which is the reason shop hulls often contain copper for preventing algae, and the attachment of barnacles and mussels.

Fact 5

The three most common metals for industrial use are iron, aluminum and copper. Approximately 60 percent of all copper is used for wiring, electronics, cookware, plumbing, building construction, coins, and various other products. You most likely believe chlorine is what makes hair in swimming pools turn green, but it is actually copper.

Fact 6

Simple binary compounds are easily formed with copper. These compounds have just two elements including copper chloride, copper sulfide and copper oxide.

Fact 7

Copper is essential for human nutrition. The majority of water supplies and foods contain this critical mineral for the formation of blood cells. The foods with the highest amount of copper include grains, beans, leafy greens and potatoes. You would have to ingest a tremendous amount of copper to receive too much. This can cause anemia, jaundice and diarrhea.

Fact 8

Copper contains many of the characteristics, and properties of desirable transition metals. Copper is a great conductor of electricity and heat, is soft, ductile and malleable and resists corrosion. Eventually, copper will oxidize, resulting in the formation of copper oxide. This oxidation is why the Statue of Liberty is green as opposed to an orangish-red.

Fact 9

Almost 80 percent of all copper mined throughout history is still being used. The metal is 100 percent recyclable. The copper located in the crust of the Earth has a concentration composed of 50 parts per million.

Fact 10

The two most common states of copper oxidation have their own properties. You can tell the difference by heating the ion in a flame to observe the emission spectrum colors. The flame from Copper II is green, while Copper I results in a blue flame.