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Circular copper – ensuring supply through smart value chain cooperation

Author: Glencore | Date: 01/06/2021

The world is facing the challenge of meeting the increasing energy needs of a growing population, while drastically reducing its carbon footprint. As the world shifts away from fossil-based fuels to other sources of energy and governments and consumers begin to embrace renewable energy, energy storage, electric vehicles, and other decarbonising technologies, the demand for refined metals that drive these changes, like copper, cobalt and nickel, is expected to keep multiplying every year. 

Part of this change will come from a smarter use of resources, as well as evolving technology and changing consumer behaviours. Although we will still need mining to meet global demand, recycling is continuing to play an essential role.

Recycling end of life electronics has been an important part of Glencore’s business since the 1980s. Industrialisation across the world and factors including climate change targets and the question of how to increase circularity on the path to a closed-loop economy are adding to this momentum in recent years.

Correspondingly, recycling is becoming an increasingly important part of Glencore’s business and reflects our Purpose of responsibly sourcing the commodities that advance everyday life.

One of the key metals needed to support a low carbon future is copper. Copper demand is expected to double over the next decades to about 60 million tonnes per year in 2050. 

While mining remains an important source for this additional metal demand, the current project pipeline for copper mine production is not sufficient to fill the gap, meaning recycling has an important role to play in making up for the shortfall. 

Moreover, to meet net zero targets by 2050 as a society, resource efficiency and renewable energy will only deliver a part of the needed CO2 reductions. Getting to net zero will also require offsetting the impact from product usage (i.e. changes to consumer behaviour patterns, and driving the Circular Economy. 

Managing our operational footprint and allocating capital to prioritise transition metals will get us part of the way there. The remainder will come from changes in consumption patterns and collaborating across the value chain, which highlights the need for education on reusing, repairing and recycling more. 

As a founding member of the Wold Economic Forum-backed Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP), launched earlier this year along with Dell, Microsoft, Google, Vodafone, Cisco, SIMS, and many other companies and partner organisations, we have started this process.
 

We need to change the paradigm – if you want to achieve a circular economy, you have to think of post-consumer materials as a resource, not as waste. Copper is a great example. It has a dual role to play on the path to net zero. For one, it is vital to powering electrification. But it is also an easily recyclable commodity that doesn’t lose any of its properties in the process, meaning we can produce more low carbon Copper to fuel the low carbon energy transition!

Kunal Sinha, Global Commercial Lead Recycling business

Where product design used to be linear, today’s environmental targets and future supply shortfalls mean that thinking about how best to recycle a product after its use needs to start during the design process. Recycled content has to translate into downstream capacity.

Traditionally, recycling sits at the end of this this chain, managing the transport of – sometimes hazardous – materials safely to recycling sites and then bringing the recycled and refined metals back to market. However, we are increasingly finding opportunities to have “Circular Conversations” – with big tech, OEMs, recyclers, policy makers, and other stakeholders in this ecosystem to discuss how to best design products that can be easily recycled at the end of their lifetime. That is also why Glencore continues to develop, market, and support state-of-the-art technology and is adapting existing technology. By working together across the entire end to end electronics supply chain, we can help upstream stakeholders achieve their, and eventually the world’s, net zero goals.

To learn more about our recycling activities, visit our Recycling pages.