Facts About Copper Recycling

Information About Copper and Copper Recycling

Recycling copper

Matej Krajcovic/Getty Images

Copper is a non-ferrous metal, and valued as the best non-precious metal conductor of electricity. The only metal with better conductive properties is silver. Copper holds as much as 90 percent of new copper value, and as such it is one of the basic targets for many scrap metal collectors. Here are some other basic facts about copper and copper recycling:

1. With usage spanning 10,000 years into the past, copper has been used by people longer than any other metal. A copper pendant dating to approximately 8700 B.C. was found in what is now northern Iraq.

2. Beginning around 8000 B.C., copper was used by Neolithic man as a substitute for stone. Around 4000 B.C., the Egyptians heated and mold casted copper into shapes. Shortly thereafter, around 3500 B.C., people began smelting ores, giving birth to the Bronze Age.

3. The island of Cypress was the source of copper used by the Romans, which they referenced as Cyprium, which translates as "metal of Cyprus." This name was shortened to cyprium, and later, cyprium was changed to coprum. This was the genesis of the English term, “copper.”

4. The processing of recycled copper requires much less energy than the processing of new copper from virgin ore, providing a savings of 85–90 percent of energy requirements.

5. Ranking only behind Chile in copper production, the United States is largely self-sufficient in copper supply. The U.S. produces roughly 8 percent of the world’s copper supply.

6. In 2014, U.S. recyclers processed 820,000 metric tons of copper for domestic use and export.

7. In 2014, around 34 percent of domestic copper was recovered from recycled material with the rest generated from newly mined ore. While wire supply is produced predominantly from newly refined copper, nearly two-thirds of the amount used by other segments of industry, including copper and brass mills, ingot makers, foundries and others comes from recycled material.

8. Slightly over one-half of recycled copper scrap is new scrap recovery including chips and machine turnings, with the rest beingold post-consumer scrap such as electrical cable, old radiators and plumbing tube.

9. Given a single family home of approximately 2,100 square feet, the copper content is estimated as follows:

  • 195 pounds - building wire
  • 151 pounds - plumbing tube, fittings, valves
  • 24 pounds - plumbers' brass goods
  • 47 pounds - built-in appliances
  • 12 pounds - builders hardware
  • 10 pounds - other wire and tube

7. Given an average multifamily unit of 1,000 square feet, the copper content can be estimated as follows:

  • 125 pounds - building wire
  • 82 pounds - plumbing tube, fittings, valves
  • 20 pounds - plumbers' brass goods
  • 38 pounds - built-in appliances
  • 6 pounds - builders hardware
  • 7 pounds - other wire and tube

8. The copper content associated with household appliances can be generalized as follows:

  • 52 pounds - unitary air conditioner
  • 48 pounds - unitary heat pump
  • 5.0 pounds - dishwasher
  • 4.8 pounds - refrigerator/freezer
  • 4.4 pounds - clothes washer
  • 2.7 pounds - dehumidifier
  • 2.3 pounds - disposer
  • 2.0 pounds - clothes dryer
  • 1.3 pounds - range

Information for this article was sourced from the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) and the Copper Development Association.