The Role of Scrap Recycling in the USA for the Circular Economy: A Case Study of Copper Scrap Recycling
Recycled metals have become a significant source of supply, with a lower environmental impact than primary metals. Factors such as geography, trade regulations and economics on domestic recycling and international trade in scrap all influence the extent of recycling. The role of scrap recycling in the USA and its contribution to the Circular Economy with respect to metals is discussed. At one time, almost all the metal scrap arising in the USA was recycled and treated within the country. Since about the early 1980s, there has been a decline in the proportion of scrap metal recycled and treated in-country in the USA in favour, due to apparent cost benefits, of exporting to other countries such as China for treatment. It is considered that subsequently skills and technology in this area will require re-building to enable metal scrap to be efficiently treated at home using the best available technology. With the recent ban by China on certain metal imports, each country will now need to handle more of its own scrap metal. The opportunities in the USA as a consequence of this are discussed in the paper. The paper also describes the results of a case study for copper scrap recycling. As part of this, the technology, energy consumption and GHG emissions are examined in terms of the grade of scrap copper for selected smelting process routes. It was found that the energy consumption in copper scrap recycling is far lower than that required to produce copper from as-mined ore, while at the same time, it is quite dependent on the grade of actual scrap treated. It is concluded that enhanced copper recycling from secondary materials would be beneficial to the USA, driven by modern technologies as discussed in the paper, as well as encouraging policies from the regulators.