I always like to recycle and follow the directions of my local trash collection company in order to contribute to this effort. But, I always wondered how much impact does recycling have in the supply of raw materials. And more importantly, how much effect would it have in future mining projects?
My answer came while attending the 11th World Copper Conference 2012, in Santiago Chile. During this conference, there was a panel discussion about how much supply will be needed in a world of recycling. Mr. Volker Pawlitzki, vice president of commercial recycling of ARUBIS mentioned that today, 14% of the world copper consumption comes from recycling and it was projected to grow only 3% by the year 2014.
In perspective, this is not a lot in order to impact new mining projects around the world since demand for the red material continues to grow. One of the main reasons for this small incremental growth in recycling is because more and more recycled copper is coming from electronics. The composition of electronic material grows more complex every day since it combines copper, different metals and plastics, and miniaturization of components—all which increase the level of recycling difficulty.
Making extraction economical and effective requires large facilities with large investments in technology and environmental protection. Therefore, the economics of recycling versus mining still play in the favor of mining.
I am not trying to discourage everyone from recycling; on the contrary, I encourage everyone to continue recycling because mining has its own set of issues with water scarcity, rising energy costs, and local community support for new mines. In the long run, I won’t discard the possibility that new technology breakthroughs will make recycling more efficient and economic.
In the interim, this is good news for miners since high demand of minerals and relatively low recycling output guarantees that the race to extract more minerals out of the ground will continue.