National Recycle Week: combating waste with copper recycling

National Recycle Week is a campaign that champions recycling and encourages people across the nation to recycle more of the right things in the right way. Now in its 19th year, the initiative has helped popularise recycling in the UK – but there is still work to be done. 

One of the main barriers to a zero-waste world is the continued use of non-recyclable materials, which ultimately end up in landfill. Switching to sustainable materials remains one of the biggest opportunities for businesses and consumers to create a more environmentally stable planet.

Let’s Get Real: the truth about plastics pollution

‘Let’s Get Real’ is the theme of National Recycle Week 2022. While the importance of recycling is now common knowledge, several prevailing myths continue to clip the wings of our national waste management strategy. 

One of those myths pertains to plastic recycling. While, in theory, some plastics can be recycled, the truth is that only 9% of all plastics in use globally are recycled. This is because plastics recycling is expensive, and the resulting product is of lower quality than the original. 

Despite these shortcomings, plastics continue to be used ubiquitously, and often at the expense of recyclable alternatives. In most cases, these choices are made not based on the quality of the material, but in order to save costs. 

Plastic production more than doubled from 156 Mt in 2000 to 353 Mt in 2019. Presently, plastics are generally not recycled at all, so without a conscious switch to recyclable alternatives, landfill sites will only become more difficult to manage.

The recyclable qualities of copper

There are many eco-friendly alternatives to plastic that can meet our needs without depleting the planet’s natural resources. One example is copper, which can perform the role that plastics currently occupy in the construction industry while being recycled repeatedly. 

Once copper is no longer of use, scrap copper can be collected, melted down and then cast into new products. This process does not result in any loss of quality to the recycled copper and is also said to use just 20% of the energy required to mine copper. 

In this way, recycled copper can be reused infinitely once it has been extracted from the natural environment. Urban mines of copper, which store scrap copper recovered from disused buildings, offer an almost limitless supply of recycled copper for use in the circular economy. 

If you ever find yourself with scrap copper, send it to a specialist scrap collector with proven sustainability credentials – they will ensure the copper is recycled and given a new lease of life rather than sent to landfill.

Copper recycling in different industries

As the third most consumed metal on earth, copper is used widely in a variety of industries. From plumbing systems and roofing to electronics and industrial machinery, copper products come in many forms and can be recycled whenever they reach the end of their lifespan. 

In construction, the most popular industry for copper, old buildings can be stripped out for their materials. Old copper pipes, no longer of use, are recovered by demolition labourers and sent to specialist scrap heaps where the copper recycling process gives rise to new copper pipes. 

Scrap copper can also be recovered from electronic waste. Specialist copper recycling centres sort and separate the copper from mobile phones, household appliances and other electronic devices, before purifying the copper and assembling it into larger batches ready for repurposing. 

In the automobile industry, copper used in motors, lights and braking systems is recycled and purified using a process called mechanical sorting. Since this technology was first pioneered by Toyota in 2014, copper recycling has become the gold standard within the industry.

Supporting the environment with sustainable materials

With environmental pressures mounting, the need to reduce waste while preserving the planet’s natural resources becomes ever urgent. Recycling addresses these issues, enabling us to live sustainably using materials that can already be found within the built environment. 

Copper, with its excellent sustainability credentials, has an important part to play in the push toward a more environmentally stable planet. Choosing to use and recycle copper, instead of its non-recyclable alternatives, is one of the many choices we can make to live more sustainably. 

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