Metal Reserves and Recycling
During the 20th century, the variety of metals uses in society grew rapidly. Today, the development of major nations, such as China and India, and advances in technologies, are fuelling ever more demand. The result is that metal mining activities are expanding, and more and more of the world’s metal stocks are above ground in use, rather than below ground as unused reserves. An example is the in-use stock of copper. Between 1932 and 1999, copper in use in the USA rose from 73 kg to 238 kg per person.
Metals are inherently recyclable, so in principle, can be used over and over again, minimizing the negative environmental impacts of mining and saving energy at the same time. For example, 95% of the energy used to make aluminium from bauxite ore is saved by using recycled material. However, levels of metals recycling are generally low. In 2010, the International Resource Panel, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published reports on metal stocks that exist within society and their recycling rates.
The report authors observed that the metal stocks in society can serve as huge mines above ground. However, they warned that the recycling rates of some rare metals used in applications such as mobile phones, battery packs for hybrid cars and fuel cells, are so low that unless future end-of-life recycling rates are dramatically stepped up these critical metals will become unavailable for use in modern technology.
Read more about this topic: Mining
... During the 20th century, the variety of metals uses in society grew rapidly ... The result is that metal mining activities are expanding, and more and more of the world’s metal stocks are above ground in use, rather than below ground as unused reserves ... Metals are inherently recyclable, so in principle, can be used over and over again, minimizing the negative environmental impacts of mining and saving energy at the same time ...
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