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The State of Copper Recycling in the U.S.

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The following content is sponsored by the Copper Development Association

The State of Copper Recycling in the U.S.

Copper is essential for a low-carbon economy due to its crucial role in renewable energy technologies.

As a result, many worry that a lack of the metal used in wires and batteries can hurt a transition to a green economy.

In this graphic, our sponsor, the Copper Development Association, explores how recycling can address the demand for copper.

Copper Scrap Recycled in the U.S.

In 2022, the total copper scrap recycled in the U.S. was approximately 830,000 tonnes, equivalent to 32% of the total U.S. copper supply for the same period. Around 670,000 tonnes (81%) originated from pre-consumer sources generated during manufacturing operations, while 160,000 tonnes (19%) came from post-consumer sources, such as obsolete products.

Brass and wire-rod mills accounted for the majority of the copper recycled from scrap (85%). Additionally, smelters, refiners, and ingot makers make 10% and chemical plants, foundries, and other manufacturers around 5%.

Copper from Scrap2022 Content (tonnes)
Brass and wire-rod mills650,000 t
Smelters and refiners40,000 t
Ingot makers39,500 t
Foundries, Other40,000 t

Despite the rising demand for copper, the U.S. predominantly exports its copper scrap.

In 2022, the U.S. exported half of the 1,569,000 tonnes of the copper content generated from scrap. This export trend persisted because, until recent years, the country lacked operating secondary copper smelters capable of processing complex scrap grades into furnace-ready raw materials.

However, reshoring this metal presents an opportunity for the country.

Tapping into the Urban Mine

North America currently has about 86 million tonnes (Mt) of copper in use, known as the Urban Mine. This copper will become available for recycling as aging infrastructure and products reach the end of their service lives:

  • Buildings: 45.4 Mt
  • Infrastructure: 16.1 Mt
  • Consumer Products: 11.2 Mt
  • Transport: 8.5 Mt
  • Industrial Uses: 4.8 Mt

Increased secondary smelting and refining capacity is a crucial building block for a more resilient and self-sufficient U.S. copper supply chain.

In response to the growing need for copper, the U.S. plans to add over 280,000 tonnes of secondary smelting and refining capacity in the next few years. This expansion will enable the country to process more complex scrap grades domestically.

Given that copper products can last for decades, creating a lag time before the material becomes available for recycling, primary production will continue to play an important role in meeting the increasing needs in the U.S.

The Copper Development Association (CDA) brings the value of copper and its alloys to society to address the challenges of today and tomorrow. Visit www.copper.org to learn more about why copper is a critical mineral.

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Misc

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

China produces more than half the world’s steel.

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Voronoi graphic showing the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023.

Visualizing Raw Steel Production in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Steel is essential for the economy due to its crucial role in infrastructure, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors.

This graphic breaks down the estimated global production of raw steel in 2023. The data was sourced from the U.S. Geological Survey as of January 2024.

China Produces More Than Half the World’s Steel

One major issue facing the steel industry is overcapacity in top producer China.

Steel production in China has surpassed demand in recent years, leading to downward pressure on the profit margins of steel mills worldwide.

Historically, China’s troubled real estate sector has accounted for over one-third of the country’s steel consumption. To address this issue, the Chinese government has mandated steel production cuts since 2021.

Far behind China, India is the second-biggest producer of steel, followed by Japan.

CountryRegion2023 Production (million tonnes)
🇨🇳 ChinaAsia1,000
🇮🇳 IndiaAsia140
🇯🇵 JapanAsia87
🇺🇸 U.S.North America80
🇷🇺 RussiaEurope75
🇰🇷 S. KoreaAsia68
🌍 Rest of World420
Total1,870

Infinite Recyclability

Steel is an alloy primarily composed of iron ore containing less than 2% carbon, 1% manganese, and other trace elements. It is 1,000 times stronger than iron and can be recycled over and over without sacrificing quality.

Steel is widely used in various industries. It is a fundamental material in construction, providing support through beams, internal structures, and roofing.

Moreover, steel’s corrosion-resistant properties make it ideal for water infrastructure. Stainless steel pipes are the preferred choice for underground water systems, ensuring longevity and purity in water transportation.

Additionally, most canned foods are stored in steel containers for preservation, as steel does not rust.

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Visualizing Cobalt Production by Country in 2023

The Democratic Republic of Congo accounts for 74% of the world’s cobalt output.

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Visualizing Cobalt Production by Country in 2023

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Cobalt is a critical mineral used in numerous commercial, industrial, and military applications. In recent years, it has gained attention as it is also necessary for batteries used in cell phones, laptops, and electric vehicles (EVs).

This graphic illustrates estimated cobalt production by country in 2023 in metric tons. The data is from the most recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Commodity Summaries, published in January 2024.

The DRC Produces 74% of Global Cobalt

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounts for 74% of the world’s cobalt output. Although the metal is found on a large scale in other parts of the world, like Australia, Europe, and Asia, the African nation holds the biggest reserve by far. Of the 11,000,000 metric tons of worldwide reserves, it is estimated that 6,000,000 metric tons are located in the DRC.

Countrymetric tonsPercentage
🇨🇩 DRC170,00074%
🇮🇩 Indonesia17,0007%
🇷🇺 Russia8,8004%
🇦🇺 Australia4,6002%
🇲🇬 Madagascar4,0002%
🇵🇭 Philippines3,8002%
🌍 Other Countries21,1009.00%
Total229,300100%

Since around 20% of the cobalt mined in the DRC originates from small-scale artisanal mines, often employing child labor, the extraction of the metal has been a point of intense debate. With a long history of conflict, political upheaval, and instability, the country is often listed among the poorest nations in the world.

Today, the EV sector constitutes 40% of the overall cobalt market.

China is the world’s leading consumer of cobalt, with nearly 87% of its consumption used by the lithium-ion battery industry.

In the U.S., 50% of cobalt consumed is used in superalloys, mainly in aircraft gas turbine engines.

Learn More About Critical Minerals From Visual Capitalist

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out The Critical Minerals to China, EU, and U.S. National Security. This visualization shows which minerals are essential to China, the United States, and the European Union.

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