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Metal Miner

Metal Miner

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Recycling Could Help Ease The Metals Squeeze

  • Metal markets have seen prices soar across the board as demand outpaced supply.
  • Both smelters and automakers have had to curb production due to shortages of key metals.
  • Recycling could help ease some of the supply chain pain.
Recycling Metals Squeeze

Faced with supply chain shortages, metal squeezes and smelter shutdowns, metal buyers and manufacturers continue to look for supply solutions. Some theorize that recycling and reusing metals could help. However, global construction and metal markets currently need more than the current metal recycling industry can provide. Is there a way that metal manufacturers can achieve some sort of balance? In recent years, numerous reports have analyzed the recycling metal atmosphere. Indeed, many experts believe metal recycling will accelerate and grow in the coming years. Hardly surprising when considering metals like aluminum, which are abundant and already widely recycled.

After all, the everyday consumer understands the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and scrap metal. However, when speaking on a larger, industrial scale how much material can recycled metals actually provide? Moreover, does shifting towards a more recycling-oriented system mean we’ll see drops in product durability over time?

Related: Europe’s $280 Billion Support Package Could Make Energy Crisis Worse

Take copper, for instance. Despite oxidation, copper has proven highly recyclable just like aluminum. However, when we shift our focus to radioactive metals like plutonium and uranium, we quickly realize that no recycling options currently exists. And while radioactive metals only make up a fraction of the marketplace they are nonetheless important.

While recycling metals could prove promising, the key to circumventing the supply chain crisis lies elsewhere. The ever-changing global political landscape ads further complications. This constantly threatens to change the supply/demand structure of multiple metals.

Learn how to gauge the prices of renewable energy metals and use price forecasting methodology in MetalMiner’s free September Webinar. Sign up here!

Metal Supply and Demand Placed Against Recycling Capabilities

US copper demand and consumption was about 1.8 million metric tons in 2021. In 2020, around 866,000 metric tons of copper were recycled. Of course, these numbers are purely domestic. That means US imports for both recycled and freshly-manufactured coppers are not taken into account. Still, the figures clearly demonstrate that copper recycling in the US currently does not come close to meeting demand.  

However, with a concerted effort to promote growth the recycled metals market might take some strain off producers. Moreover, recycling metals domestically means less pressure for countries to compete with one another over shortages in current metal supply chains. Still, such an effort would require multiple new recycling facilities, which takes time to build and implement.  

With industrial activities across Central Europe dwindling due to the energy crises, the whole world could soo feel the impact. In the short term, recycling just isn’t a viable option.

Metal Recycling Industry Set for Massive Growth

Whatever the ability to impact metal supply in the near term, the world seems focused on metal recycling. According to a report from Straits Research, the global metal recycling market should be valued at $384 billion by 2030, a 67% increase over its current valuation. That’s a 5.85% CAGR (compound annual growth rate), and it represents a huge opportunity.

The report also highlighted copper, iron, stainless steel, aluminum, and zinc as the most likely metals to be reclaimed and repurposed. However, it’s possible that recently-developed techniques will also enable us to recycle new, rarer metals. Indeed, companies around the world are already racing to improve the recycling process for rare earths.

If science comes through, we could enter a brave new world of metal supply. Until then, traditional, energy-efficient methods will likely dominate the market.

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By AG Metal Miner

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Leave a comment
  • DoRight Deikins on August 31 2022 said:
    «Until then, traditional, energy-efficient methods will likely dominate the market.»

    Energy efficiency is the key. Practically anything can be recycled, but if the price of doing so (which directly relates to the energy used in the full process, including collecting) is far higher than production from raw materials, then it won't be done, unless of course the cost of the energy for the recycling is free.

    But even the cost of supposedly free sources such as solar and wind, have a far lower ROI (Return On Investment) than fossil fuels. And if the life of a energy source is shorter than the time it takes to amortize the ROI, then it costs even more to recycle.
  • serah Njoki on September 01 2022 said:
    this is a good and great article ,, thnaks for sharing it is very helpful
  • hiran kavindu on September 06 2022 said:
    This will be really good for everyone in the construction business as well as people who are gonna be trying to build their home.
  • DoRight Deikins on September 16 2022 said:
    Another comment. You failed to mention the most recycled and most used metal of all - steel. Large companies have been built and become top in their industries by recycling steel (e.g. Nucor). Nucor brags as being the largest recycler in the US (world?). Of course, they have also always treated their employee-partners well, very well!

    The problem with recycling is that if the demand is growing much more rapidly than it is being recycled, then it is impossible to meet demand through recycling. For example, the demand for copper, with all the EVs, wind turbines, solar panels, distribution networks, and electrification of housing and residential infrastructure is far beyond that of previous years (decades) of copper usage. I'm guessing that one could recycle all the copper that was installed before 1990 and would not have enough to meet demand.

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