Copper and Circular Economy

Due to its infinite life cycle, copper’s contribution to the longevity and efficiency of a wide range of products and industries is an outstanding example of the circular economy and the guiding principle of reuse. The circular economy is an important part of the solution to the resource problem, as it links economic and ecological opportunities. In a sustainable circular economy, materials and substances should be used in such a way that they provide benefits in products over as long a period as possible, are recovered for future production processes and thus cannot be irretrievably lost as waste.

Circular economy: The 4 R of copper

Copper and the circular economy

The role of copper is important because it is a key material for the circular economy. In other words, the recovery of copper enables the recycling of many other materials, many of which have a high value but are present in very small quantities. Copper is a “carrier metal” for a wide range of other non-ferrous metals – refining and recycling copper is therefore Europe’s most important way to access valuable and critical metals. State-of-the-art recyclers are able to extract more than 20 metals from complex copper products and applications. The use of secondary materials is a crucial element in the transition to a productive circular economy.

Copper is already an important component of our most innovative technologies, such as smart energy technology and electric cars, and its role in electromobility, energy efficiency and renewable energy is growing. For this reason, McKinsey has estimated a potential 43 per cent increase in copper demand by 2035 compared to today’s demand of around 22 million tonnes.

Reduce - Reuse - Remanufacturing - Recycling


Reducing the material use of energy and other resources

  • Energy consumption for the production of copper has been reduced by 60 % since 1990.
  • 80 – 90 % reduction in energy demand for recycling copper.
  • Reduction of the global CO2 footprint by 16 % by 2030.
  • One tonne of copper used in rotating machinery – such as an electric motor or wind turbine – saves 7500 tonnes of CO2 emissions during its lifetime: Each tonne of copper that generates electricity in offshore wind turbines saves 150 times more CO2 in one year than what was produced during its production in Germany (approx. 2 t).
  • Recovering copper from common applications such as motors, transformers and cables, where it is the main material, requires up to 85% less energy than primary production.
  • Reduction of waste and protection of scarce resources.
  • Reduction of 500 to 50,000 MWh of primary energy and saving of €24,000 to €2.4 million.
  • Weight reduction in products through miniaturisation with copper materials.


Reuse of materials

  • Metal extraction and recycling often provide a range of valuable by-products: Essential components of the production process are reused. One of the co-products of copper, iron silicate, is often used in construction, for example. Therefore, the use of iron silicate can contribute to a circular economy by avoiding the environmental, financial and spatial burdens of landfilling, thus saving natural mineral resources in the cycle and energy.
  • Reuse of copper slag


Industrial reconditioning of used parts in original parts quality

  • Repair and remanufacture of electric car batteries.
  • Remanufacturing of car parts (35,000 jobs in Europe for this alone)
  • Recycling of IT products
  • Reduction of CO2
  • Rapid return on investment
  • Conservation of resources
  • Cheaper for consumers


Copper can be melted down and reused an infinite number of times

  • Copper is infinitely recyclable without loss of quality or properties.
  • Currently, almost 50% of European copper demand is met by recycled material.
  • Of the 550 million tonnes of copper produced since 1900, an estimated two thirds are still in productive use today.  80% of the copper ever produced is still in active use today.
  • Reducing waste and protecting scarce resources
  • At 15%, copper accounts for the second highest share of mobile phones (urban mining).
  • End-product-related recycling rate (end of life) for copper from the construction sector at approx. 95 %.
  • The recycling of more than 700,000 tonnes of copper alone saves 141 million tonnes of raw materials per year in Germany compared to the extraction of copper from ores.
  • More than 30 % of global copper consumption comes from recycled copper.

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The life of copper is infinite and has no end phase.


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