Metals recycling is a £3.5billion UK industry, processing ferrous and non ferrous metal scrap into vital secondary raw material for the smelting of new metals. The industry employs over 8,000 people and makes a net contribution to UK balance of trade.
Worldwide, over 400 million tonnes of metal is recycled each year.
Virtually all metals can be recycled into high quality new metal. The process varies for different metals, but generally produces metals of equivalent quality. Thus, for example:
- Steelmaking using the electric arc furnace process uses scrap metal as the major raw material. This method is typically used for high quality tool steels and stainless steel. Smaller quantities of scrap can also be used in basic oxygen (blast furnace) steelmaking.
- Copper scrap is used by both primary and secondary producers, where processing methods include blast furnace, reverberatory furnace or electric arc furnace. In the latter, around 75-80 per cent raw material is scrap copper.
- Aluminium production uses a single production method – the Hall-Héroult Process. But virgin raw materials require temperatures of around 900 C, whilst scrap aluminium melts at around 660 C.
Metals recycling protects the environment and saves energy. Using secondary raw materials means less use of natural resources which would otherwise be needed to make new metal compounds – such as iron ore in steelmaking; nickel in stainless steel; or alumina and bauxite in aluminium smelting. There are also considerable savings in energy, and reduced CO2 emissions, in production methods using recycled materials:
EU figures indicate that using recycled raw materials, including metals, cuts CO2 emissions by some
200 million tonnes CO2 emission reduction every year.
There are also other environmental benefits, for example, using recycled steel to make new steel enables reductions such as:
86% in air pollution
40% in water use
76% in water pollution
Metals recycling supplies a major worldwide industry. Manufacturing of metals continues to be one of the largest UK manufacturing sectors, employing more people, and contributing more value to the UK economy, than motor and aerospace combined. Growth in China, and to a lesser extent India, means that export markets are growing.
Thus recycled metals have significant economic value – and so scrap metal is rarely discarded or sent to landfill.
In 2005, 13 million tonnes of metal was recycled in the UK. Around 40% of this was used in the UK, and the remaining 60% exported worldwide: the UK produces considerably more scrap than is required for domestic markets.
- Ferrous scrap: 4.6 million tonnes of iron and steel and stainless steel scrap was supplied to steelworks in the UK, and 0.9 million tonnes to UK foundries; 6.1 million tonnes was exported. Major markets were Europe, particularly Spain, and Asia, particularly India. The worldwide market for ferrous scrap is predicted to continue its steady growth, which has averaged around 5% per annum over the past 12 years.
- Non-ferrous metals: over one million tonnes was processed. Approximately 45% of this was aluminium, 31% copper, and significant quantities of nickel, brass, zinc and lead. Non ferrous metals are traded on the London Metal Exchange, and therefore subject to volatility in commodity investments. UK exports topped 800,000 tonnes in 2005, a 20% increase on the previous year. Europe, China and India are the main destinations.