METAL RECYCLING | Did you know that producing with recycled metals instead of virgin metals can save you up to 90% on energy?

Metal Recycling


The XX and XXI centuries brought with them a great deal of technological advances that allowed production costs to fall, leading to an increase in production. Both technological improvements and the expansion of production lead to the creation of new jobs and an increase in social welfare. However, not everything is perfect. The set of macroeconomic variables does not always go in the same direction but in reverse. For example, there is a possibility that some indicators improve while others worsen at the same time.

The back-side of the increase in production is the increase in waste generation and energy consumption. Therefore, we may be faced with dynamic inconsistency, meaning that a situation may be favourable today, but detrimental in the future. Current actors may clearly benefit in terms of welfare, but future actors could be affected by pollution. The metal industry is characterised by the fact that it cuts across the entire economy. Consequently, it is one of the most waste-producing and energy-intensive industries. Some important facts can be seen below.

1. The US Environmental Protection Agency, in its report “Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal”, measured the percentage of energy savings when producing with recycled metals compared to virgin materials. For example, in the case of aluminium and copper, more than 90% of energy is saved, while in the case of steel, more than 50% is saved. In turn, working with recycled metals uses 40% less water.

2. According to the United Nations’ (UN) report “Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report”, after having studied the recycling rate of 60 metals, the following conclusions were reached.

a) 18 out of 60 metals have a recycling rate of more than 50%. Steel can be found here.

b) 3 out of 60 metals have a recycling rate between 25% and 50%.

c) 3 out of 60 metals have a recycling rate between 10% and 25%.

d) 2 out of 60 metals have a recycling rate between 1% and 10%.

e) 34 out of 60 metals have a recycling rate of less than 1%. Lithium can be found here.

This suggests that there is still a long way to go in terms of recycling. It is true that a large percentage is already recycled, but there is still a long way to go.

3. According to the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), if we look at the total volume of waste recycled in Spain, 60% comes from the metal industry. This is well ahead of the paper/cardboard (20%) and wood, glass and plastics (20%) sectors.

The conclusion we reach is that the recycling of materials benefits both the environment and industry. The environment benefits from both energy savings and the conservation of natural resources, while industry benefits from the economic benefits of reduced costs. Thus, metal recycling allows us to resolve the conflict of dynamic inconsistency raised at the beginning of this article. There is no doubt that it is possible to improve current welfare with future welfare in mind. Recycling is the way.

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