Metals are strong, durable, malleable and conductive, and they serve as essential raw materials for a wide variety of uses, such as in the production of tools, in construction, and in electronics[sc:1]. Unlike some other types of recyclable materials, such as paper and plastics, that tend to degrade their value over time and have a limit of how many times they can be recycled, metals can be recycled almost indefinitely and never lose their structural value[sc:1]. The following are some of the main benefits of recycling metals:
Recycling metals helps to conserve natural resources and protect the environment
Metal ores are a limited resource, and by recycling metals such as steel and aluminum that are made from ores, we reduce the amount of raw materials that are needed to be mined from the environment. Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 8 tons of bauxite ore, and recycling one ton of steel saves 2,500 pounds (1134 kg) of iron ore, ½ ton of coal, and 120 pounds (54 kg) of limestone[sc:1]. By recycling one ton of steel, 40% of the water used for production is conserved, and 86% of air emissions and 76% water pollution are reduced[sc:1]. Recycling metals also reduces ore mining waste by 97%[sc:2].
Since the process of extraction and the production of brand new raw metal materials requires large amounts of energy, recycling metals helps to reduce greenhouse gases and other types of emissions. For example, the recycling of aluminum produces only 5% of the carbon emissions compared to those that are produced during the production of new aluminum from virgin materials[sc:1].
The recycling of metals has the potential to cut the production of greenhouse gas emissions by 300-500 million tons. By reducing other types of emissions through recycling metals instead of producing them with virgin materials, we are also reducing polluting chemicals in our air that contributes to respiratory problems.[sc:2]
Recycling metals saves energy
Since the production of metals from raw materials is so energy-intensive, such as through the drilling of ore and metal refining, recycling metals saves a significant amount of energy. For example, the amount of energy used to make a single aluminum can could be used instead to recycle 20 aluminum cans[sc:1]. By recycling aluminum, we save over 100,000 GWh of energy, which is enough energy to power the entire country of the Netherlands[sc:1].
Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make new aluminum, recycling steel saves 60% of the energy used to make new steel, and recycling copper saves 90% of the energy used to make new copper[sc:3].
Recycling metals helps the economy
By recycling metals, we help to support an industry that creates jobs and helps our local economies. Metals are highly valuable, and by recycling them, we are helping to provide raw materials that can make new products, and the job opportunities that go with them. Workers are also needed to collect recycled materials and to process them so that they can be used again.
When you recycle metals, you help to support 36 times more jobs than just sending metals to incinerators, and six times more jobs than if the metals were being sent to landfills. In the U.S. alone, more than a million people are employed by a recycling industry that generates $236 billion dollar per year[sc:2].
Because metals are so important for many of the things that we do, it is important to continue to reuse them so that they will be available for future use. For the sake of our environment, health, and economy, it just makes sense to recycle metals instead of throwing them away.