past and future
According to the U.S. Bureau of Mines and
the U.S. Geological Survey, known copper resources are estimated
at nearly 5.8 trillion pounds worldwide, only about 0.7 trillion
pounds of which have been mined to date. The recycling rate of
copper is so high that nearly all of the copper mined throughout
history – some estimates go as high as 80 percent – is still
in circulation today. Every year in the United States, nearly
as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is mined.
This is why the value of copper scrap remains so high, with premium-grade
scrap maintaining at least 95 percent of the value of newly mined
Copper use has withstood the test of time. Pure copper was the
first metal used by man, and copper artifacts, like a copper
pendant that was discovered in what is now northern Iraq, date
back to about 8700 B.C.
The Egyptians took full advantage of mankind’s first metal. Copper
saws, chisels, knives, hoes, dishes and trays made thousands
of years ago by Egyptian coppersmiths have been uncovered from
tombs in excellent condition, showing surprising durability and
Today, copper, and its alloys brass and bronze, are used for
faucets, locksets, door hardware, roofing, flashing, plumbing
and electrical applications, as well as decorative products inside
the home – the same unique characteristics that were admired
centuries ago are still valued today.
Concerns about copper resources being in jeopardy are unfounded
and probably based on speculation. While there has been tremendous
fluctuation in copper production over the last few years, there
is no indication that resources are tapering.
“Production relies on several factors, but mostly, it’s the general
state of the industry, projected prices and supply-and-demand
balances,” said Daniel Edelstein, who is a copper commodity specialist
for the National Minerals Information Center. “We were in an
upward swing when the recession hit. Since then, copper prices
have recovered, but cutbacks in mining production that took place
in 2009 have not been restored.”
“In the United States, there is at least one major mine working
toward final approval in Arizona, which will produce about 100,000
pounds of copper per year, and we also have mines that are operating
at less-than-capacity that will be restored,” he added.
Edelstein said there is also a proposed mine in Alaska that can
lead to the production of hundreds of thousands of pounds of
For those who were ever worried about copper production halting,
they can rest assured that it won’t happen. Aside from using
recycled and mined copper in United States industries, there
is also a tremendous amount of scrap metal that is exported.