Metals recycling is an established, globally competitive industry that provides essential secondary raw material for metals manufacture, which in turn enables a significant reduction in use of energy and virgin resources.
The metals recycling industry is a significant net contributor to UK balance of trade and contributes more than any other sector to UK ‘end of life’ targets, such as vehicles, packaging, batteries, electrical and electronic equipment. In short, metals recycling protects the environment, saves energy and supports a huge workforce.
Good for the environment
Using scrap metal, also known as secondary raw materials, means less use of precious natural resources which would be needed to make new metal compounds – such as iron ore in steelmaking; nickel in stainless steel; or alumina and bauxite in aluminium smelting.
Virtually all metals can be recycled into high quality new metal. The process varies for different metals but generally recycling produces metals of equivalent quality.
Steelmaking using the electric arc furnace (EAF) method uses scrap metal as the major raw material. EAFs are typically used to produce high-quality tool steels and stainless steel. Smaller quantities of scrap – up to 25 percent – can also be used in the basic oxygen or blast furnace (BOF) method.
Copper scrap is readily used by both primary and secondary producers. In EAFs, for example, around 75-80 percent of the raw material is scrap copper.
Aluminium production, on the other hand, uses a single production method – the Hall-Héroult Process. While primary raw materials require temperatures of around 900°C, scrap or secondary aluminium melts at around 660°C.
In environmental terms, the issue is clear. EU figures indicate that using recycled raw materials, including metals, cuts CO2 emissions by some 200 million tonnes every year. Using recycled steel to make new steel reduces air pollution by 86 percent, water use by 40 percent and water pollution by 76 percent.
Good for the economy
Metals recycling supplies a major worldwide industry. Despite an economic slowdown and a decline in the steel industry, manufacturing of metals continues contribute significant value to the UK economy. As the national demand slows, export markets are growing.
On average, 10 million tonnes of metal is recycled in the UK. As the UK produces considerably more scrap than is required for domestic markets, around 80 percent is exported worldwide. In fact, the UK is one of the five largest metal scrap exporting countries in the world.