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- Publications & Research
- Publication #121
Recycling rates of metals: A status report
- Recycling rates of metals: A status report
- Thomas E. Graedel
- Julian Allwood
- Jean-Pierre Birat
- Matthias Buchert
- Christian Hagelüken
- Barbara K. Reck
- Scott F Sibley
- Guido Sonnemann
- Journal Article
- The recycling of metals is widely viewed as a
fruitful sustainability strategy, but little
information is available on the degree to
which recycling is actually taking place. This
report provides an overview on the current
knowledge of recycling rates for sixty metals.
We propose various recycling metrics,
discuss relevant aspects of the recycling of
different metals, and present current esti-
mates on global end-of-life recycling rates
(EOL-RR) [i. e., the percentage of a metal in
discards that is actually recycled], recycled
content (RC), and old scrap ratios (OSR) [i. e.,
the share of old scrap in the total scrap flow].
Because of increases in metal use over time
and long metal in-use lifetimes, many RC
values are low and will remain so for the
foreseeable future. Because of relatively low
efficiencies in the collection and processing of
most metal-bearing discarded products,
inherent limitations in recycling processes,
and because primary material is often
relatively abundant and low-cost (thereby
keeping down the price of scrap), many
EOL-RRs are very low: for only eighteen
metals (aluminium, cobalt, chromium,
copper, gold, iron, lead, manganese, niobium,
nickel, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rho-
dium, silver, tin, titanium, and zinc) is the very
important EOL-RR above 50 % at present.
Only for niobium, lead, and ruthenium is the
RC above 50 %, although sixteen metals are in
the 25 – 50 % range. Thirteen metals have an
OSR > 50 %. These estimates may be used to
assess whether recycling efficiencies can be
improved, which metric could best encourage
improved effectiveness in recycling and to
provide an improved understanding of the
dependence of recycling on economics,
technology, and other factors.
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