The value of recycling metals

Earth’s resources are finite. How can recycling help?




Globally, we extract 55 billion tonnes of biomass, fossil energy, metal and minerals from the earth annually, the OECD reported in 2008. Two years later, the International Resource Panel put the figure at 70 billion tonnes.

To get an idea of what that figure might be today, we have only to look at the rise of the middle class around the world. More disposable income equals an increase in consumption. More consumption equals the continuing drain on the earth’s resources to feed the demand for cars, appliances, phones, air travel – which requires more planes, of course – electronics and any other must-have convenience or toy.

E-scrap – end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment – is especially a problem, and it’s a problem that’s growing globally at a rate of 3% – 5% a year. We’re going to throw some interesting, albeit devastating, numbers at you as reported by the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR).

In 2016, the world generated 41.2 million metric tonnes of e-scrap. This included:  

  • 4 million tons of large-household appliances, such as washing machines
  • 9 million tonnes of small-household appliances, such as microwave ovens
  • 7 million tonnes of ICT equipment, such as phones and computers
  • 2 million tonnes of consumer electronics, such as televisions

Is there anyone who still thinks that the planet is in good shape?

How can recycling help?

Earth’s resources are finite. That’s problem number one. Problem number two: mining for those resources creates environmental hazards, from groundwater pollution and poisonous runoffs to unstable geological conditions. It can take centuries for the environment to heal from the scars left by mining non-renewable metal ores. Another point to consider: producing new metals adds more greenhouse gas emissions into the air, which may in turn contribute to climate change.

If we’re to preserve our resources and mitigate the damage to our natural habitats, the solution is recycling metals. A good example is iron, which is the most recycled commodity in the U.S. – one car saves more than 2,500 pounds of iron ore from being extracted when it’s recycled.

Scrap metal is not waste

Scrap metal, which the short-sighted call waste, is anything but. It’s a continuous resource. Non-ferrous metals can be re-melted countless times, reshaped and its properties will never degrade.

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