How Does Copper Recycling Work?

Posted on: 13 November 2020


Recycling is an enormous industry within the United States, and it includes many different kinds of recycling ranging from consumer paper or cooking oil recycling to the industrial re-use of metals and other materials. One form of recycling that combines both of these categories is copper recycling. Copper recycling services take used copper from consumer and industrial scrap, processes the copper, and resells it back to manufacturing plants.

1. Scrap

The first step of copper recycling is for the recycling plant or company to find used copper to process. Typically, they will offer money in exchange for used copper to both the average consumer that wants to get rid of copper piping or wires to manufacturing plants unable to process used copper themselves. This used copper, along with any other metal being sold, is called scrap metal. The amount that those selling scrap copper can receive fluctuates over time, as the supply and demand for copper changes in a given year or even over the course of several years. Copper is a non-renewable resource, but the supply of copper can fluctuate over time due to changes in mining practices or even in the efficiency of copper use.

2. Processing

Once scrap copper has been collected, the scrap will be processed through a couple of basic (yet intensive) steps. The copper will be separated from non-copper metals to ensure relative purity, and the copper itself will be cleaned from any dirt or chemicals that are present. Once cleaned and separated, it will be melted and remolded into a usable format, typically into bars or ingots. This melting and re-melted of copper can be done an infinite amount of times, and products made from recycled copper are frequently using copper that dates back hundreds to thousands of years.

3. Resale

Once the copper is completely processed into something usable (and reusable), it is then resold back into the stream of businesses that use copper for any number of things. Recycled copper is used for nearly every item that has copper, save for newly made wires, including everything from pennies to roofing materials to electronics and everything in-between. Recycled copper is somewhat less expensive than newly mined and minted copper ore, and the recycling process is extremely energy-efficient. As such, most companies have a large incentive to use recycled copper.

Copper recycling is a highly efficient process. Businesses and consumers have a financial incentive to sell scrap copper to processing plants, who then purify the copper they receive to sell back to the original copper-using companies. In turn, this copper is easy to recycle and process and cheaper to do so than to simply mine more copper. If you're interested in copper recycling, consider visiting a scrap yard near you.