Three or so years ago, China was established as the go-to outlet for many non-ferrous scrap exporters. Traders had become accustomed to the country’s distinctive systems and had been successful in nurturing strong and mutually-beneficial links with the country’s customer base.
The most commonly used non-ferrous metals are aluminium, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, titanium, cobalt, chromium and precious metals. Millions of tonnes of non-ferrous scrap are recovered annually and used by smelters, refiners, ingot makers, foundries and other manufacturers. Secondary materials are essential to the industry’s survival because even new metals often require the combined use of recycled materials.
According to several estimates, the recycled non-ferrous metals market as a whole was worth more than US$ 90 billion in 2018.
Aluminium, which is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, is one of the most recycled materials. Recovering aluminium for recycling is not only economically viable, but energy efficient and ecologically sound.
Owing to the limited availability of non-ferrous metals, the unrestricted flow of scrap from country to country according to industrial and consumer demand is crucial. BIR has consistently campaigned for the free movement of secondary raw materials to avoid shortages in certain geographical areas and surpluses in others. Import barriers could limit the supply to the manufacturing industry in some countries.
BIR’s major study entitled “Review of Global Non-Ferrous Scrap Flows” focuses on copper and aluminium. Owing to the industrial importance of both metals, there are very few countries in the world which do not trade in aluminium scrap or in copper/copper alloy scrap. The research reveals that scrap usage for copper - both for secondary refined copper production and direct use of scrap - increased worldwide by 41% from 5.9 million tonnes in 2000 to 8.3 million tonnes in 2015 (worth around US$ 46 billion at that time). Production of aluminium from scrap increased by 86% from 8.4 million tonnes in 2000 to 15.6 million tonnes in 2015 (worth around US$ 26 billion at that time).
Aluminium has enormous recycling potential and is often reused for the same application for which it was originally manufactured. Its strength, flexibility and light weight make it ideal for:
After silver, copper has the best electrical conductivity of all the elements. It is also a very good thermal conductor and is readily alloyed with other metals like lead, tin and zinc for foundry applications to produce, among other goods, products for the transmission of water such as valves.
Other common applications for recovered copper include:
The vast majority of recycled lead is used in batteries. Other applications include:
Zinc is present in everyday life in the form of coins. However, it also has other important uses:
Apart from precious metals, tin is one of the most expensive non-ferrous metals. Hence, recycling from secondary materials is very important. Its varied applications include: