Some household products such as toasters, motors, TVs, electronic equipment, etc., may have been dumped into landfills in the past, rather than collected or sold for their metal content. However, with the current emphasis on the selection of household and municipal-dump items for recycling, copper scrap will be recycled rather than put into landfill.
All scrap must be prepared and analyzed before processing to alter its shape and size and its purity. Scrap preparation may be done by manual, mechanical pyrometallurgical or hydrometallurgical methods. Mechanical methods include sorting, stripping, shredding, and magnetic and air separation. Pyrometallurgical preparation may include burning insulation from copper wire, which is not recommended and may be banned.
An important copper recycling material is cable scrap. At one time, burning of cable to remove the plastic parts was acceptable practice, but this is no longer always possible or desirable. Thus, mechanical dismantling of the cables is common practice through cutting, granulating and use of various metal separation techniques to separate the plastics from the metal. Total alloy and mixed scrap comprise the largest share (70%) of total scrap exports in 2008. China was the destination for 80% of the scrap exported in 2009. Hong Kong, Canada, Korea, Belgium and Taiwan were also significant importers of U.S. copper and copper alloy scrap in 2008 and 2009.
Recycling provides benefits such as energy savings. Of the commonly used metals, copper has one of the lowest energy intensities for production. The energy intensity for recycling of copper varies by the purity of the scrap. Because many applications for copper, particularly alloys, use scrap rather than virgin metal, the energy intensity of that metal is a function of how much scrap is used. For example, in a copper and brass automotive radiator, which typically uses 40% scrap, mainly for brass in tubes and header plates, the energy intensity is 20 MWh/t, not the 30 MWh/t of newly produced copper.
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