Copper and the circular economy: challenges, opportunities and solutions
Global stakeholders gathered in Antwerp for the World Resources Forum, themed around ‘closing loops’. The Intenational Copper Alliance hosted a workshop where Bernard Respaut, head of the European Copper Institute from Brussels was a speaker.
An eco-friendly, healthier and more sustainable future is based on copper—essential for a low-carbon economy with more renewables and electric vehicles, and greater energy efficiency and electrification. Copper’s lifespan is infinite—there is no final phase—and as consumtpion increases, it is important to strive towards ‘closing the loop’ to attain a truly circular economy. There wee 5 key conclusions from the conference relating to European Copepr Industry and the circular economy.
5 Key Conclusions
- To meet the growing demand of a low-carbon economy for copper, we need both copper extraction and recycling. Modern technologies and solutions supporting such an economy are necessary to move towards a sustainable development of the energy system. It is possible to examine various economic models—for example, in the framework of a common economy, which would lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles on the road. However, this does not change the fact that global consumption of raw materials is likely to increase significantly, and World Bank data on the role of minerals and metals in the low-carbon economy now and in the future confirm this process.
- The more materials we need, the more important it is to acquire, use and recycle in a sustainable way. There are various ways to achieve this. For example, a way to replace hard-to-reach raw materials (rare-earth metals) is to substitute with available materials, such as copper, which also have a lower impact on the natural environment. Examples of such applications include: the ReFreeDrive project funded in H202020, a project to extend the average life of mobile phones (Fairphone), and the way in which modern European mining and metal processing company Boliden optimised its production process.
- The challenges and priorities are different for developing countries and Europe, so it is important that we share knowledge about sustainable metals extraction and recycling methods around the world. It is important to provide local communities with the benefits of the mining, manufacturing and recycling industries, and employees safe working conditions.
- We do not realise how much copper and other important metals are in our everyday environment. We all sit with our noses in our “urban mines”, or electronic devices, where the smartphone is king. Ensuring the return of these materials to trading is extremely important. We must support various initiatives that aim to encourage the collection of small electronic waste in Europe. One of the initiatives to build capacity for sustainable recycling in developing countries is Sustainable Recycling Industries.
- World Resources Forum 2019 (World Natural Resources Forum) was also an excellent opportunity to learn from others how to deal with the challenges of the circular economy. Many ideas and solutions are ready. The copper industry is very involved in the work on responsible acquisition of this metal, and recycling rates, particularly in Europe, are high. Much is yet to be done by all of us if we are serious about building a sustainable future for our planet.