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Copper recycling and scrap availability

TitleCopper recycling and scrap availability
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsGomez F, Guzman JI, Tilton JE
Journal TitleResources Policy
KeywordsCopper industry, Metal scrap, recycling, Secondary production
AbstractAccording to existing estimates, available old copper scrap has more than tripled over the past 40 years. Secondary production (that is, copper produced from recycling old scrap), however, has only doubled. Indeed, over the past 10 years, while copper consumption and primary production have continued to expand briskly, while available old scrap has increased by over 35%, secondary production has actually stagnated. For a world concerned with sustainable development and the quality of the earth's environment, this performance is disappointing and in need of explanation. Other things being equal, one would expect the amount of recycling to increase with the availability of scrap, as many econometric models of the world copper market developed over the past several decades explicitly assume. The key to understanding sluggish growth in secondary production, this paper argues, is distinguishing carefully between (1) the flow of old scrap that arrives each year from products reaching the end of their useful lives during the year and (2) the available stock of old scrap that was not recycled during earlier years presumably because it was too costly to do so. Using an econometric model, the paper shows that old scrap stocks, which have contributed most of the increase in available old copper scrap over the years, have a very modest impact on secondary production. Old scrap flows have a much greater effect, but they account for only about 4% of the available old scrap for any given year.
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