Almost all metals can be recycled and over 400 million tonnes are recycled each year worldwide. Many metals can be melted down without compromise to their strength or durability, meaning they can be used again and again in manufacturing new products. Metal recycling is a £5.6 billion industry in the UK with both ferrous and non-ferrous metals being used to make secondary raw materials for the smelting of new metals.
Aluminium recycling has been taking place since the early 1900s, but during the 1960s, the increase in use of aluminium food and beverage cans, helped push the issue of recycling to the forefront of the public consciousness. The process of recycling aluminium is relatively straightforward and involves simply re-melting the metal – this is far cheaper than creating new aluminium through the electrolysis of aluminium oxide. Recycling aluminium also uses about 5 percent of the energy that would be required to create aluminium from bauxite. Common uses for recycled aluminium include aircraft, boats, automobiles, computers, wiring and cookware.
Steel is the most recycled material on the planet with an overall recycling rate of approximately 88 percent. The sources for scrap steel are numerous and include automobiles, steel containers, cans and construction materials. It is economically advantageous to recycle steel as it is cheaper to do this than it is to mine ore and produce new steel. As steel does not lose any of its physical properties when recycled the reduced cost and energy consumption of recycling make it a far better option. Approximately 2 out of 3 tonnes of new steel are produced from recyclying old steel, however, as demand for steel around the world continues to grow it is still necessary to continue making new steel as well as recycling.
In Europe, 41 percent of the demand for copper is met by recycling. Copper ore is a finite resource so it is very important to recycle copper and conserve the ore as much as possible. As with other metals, recycling copper uses far less energy than creating new copper, which in addition means valuable resources such as oil, gas or coal can be conserved too.
Gold and silver, often referred to as ‘precious metals’, have been widely recycled for thousands of years in the jewellery industry. It is not uncommon for people to sell items made of gold or silver to be recycled when they are no longer wanted, or to have items of jewellery made into something completely different.