The Future of Commodities is Circular

posted: 08/04/2022

Glencore is better known for mining and marketing commodities than it is for recycling them. In an interview with the Swiss Trading and Shipping Association (STSA), Kunal Sinha, Head of Recycling for Copper, Cobalt and Electronics at Glencore, explains how this little-known aspect of its work is helping drive a more circular economy.

Kunal, how long has Glencore recycled metals?
Our Horne Smelter in Canada started recycling just after World War II. Since then, we’ve become one of the world’s largest recyclers of end-of-life electronics, batteries and battery metals. In the 1980s we pioneered recovery of metals from discarded electronics. Since 1990 we’ve processed over a million tonnes of circuitry and components from discarded electronics. According to the UN, e-waste is the fastest growing type of waste: from 53.6 million tonnes in 2020, the volume is projected to grow to 74.7 million tonnes by 2050. 

How does recycling align with Glencore’s wider purpose?
Our purpose is to responsibly source the metals that advance everyday life. 
In the case of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles and personal electronics, for example, copper, nickel and cobalt are essential. With the huge demand for those metals and others, recycling is going to be a key enabler in the transition to a low-carbon economy. It also delivers a lower carbon footprint: Recycled copper produces 80% fewer emissions than mining and refining it.

We mine and refine the metals at our industrial assets, we market them to customers and then we recycle them so that they go back into the supply chain.

Kunal Sinha - Head of Recycling for Copper, Cobalt and Electronics

What makes you different from other recyclers?
For us recycling is not an exotic little side project. Glencore’s primary and recycling businesses are in harmony: our significant smelting and refining capacity is designed to handle a wide range of complex input feeds, and allows us to use primary assets to also process recyclable feeds at significantly lower overall costs compared to dedicated recycling-only assets. This approach is not only economically sensible – at significant scale - but also sustainable. We mine and refine the metals at our industrial assets, we market them to customers and then we recycle them so that they go back into the supply chain. Globally, less than 20% of e-waste is collected and processed in formal recycling facilities, and it’s the fastest growing waste category out there. Therefore, we are very committed to continue to invest in our already significant scale for recycling this stream – it is very profitable, but more importantly, also aligns with our ethos of responsible sourcing.

The world needs a lot more commodities to reach net zero. What initiatives are you pursuing to achieve that?
We just recently announced an industry-leading battery recycling JV in the UK. We are testing new technologies that will allow us to recycle more complex materials. As a responsible business, we work closely with industry and government partners to improve circularity in business models for electronics and batteries. We helped create the Circular Electronics Partnership, with some of the world’s biggest businesses working to define circularity in the sector, and we’re a founding member of the Global Battery Alliance which is developing a sustainable battery value chain. Ultimately, our vision is to be a lifetime custodian for the metals we produce, ensuring that they’re not just mined, but also recycled responsibly. 


tags: Sustainability Recycling Responsibility