Copper Facts: Copper - An Important Natural Resource

Copper Fact 1

We're in no danger of running out of copper. World­wide resources of this important and valuable metal are estimated at more than 8.1 trillion pounds of which only about 1.1 trillion (~13.6%) have been mined through­out history.

And keep in mind, a vast amount of those 1.1 trillion pounds is still in circulation because copper's recycling rate is higher than that of any other engineering metal.

2007 U.S. Mine Production Compared with Current USGS Estimates of
Copper Reserves and Resources
billions of poundsmillions of metric tons
U.S. Mine Production 2.6 1.2
U.S. Reserve Base 154.3 70
World Reserve Base 2,072.3 940
Total World Resources 8,157.1* 3,700*
Land-based 6,613.8* 3,000*
Deep-sea nodules 1,543.2* 700*
Mined worldwide throughout history 1,234.6 557
(*) Note: Based upon a preliminary global assessment in which the USGS is participating, discovered and undiscovered land-based copper resources are expected to exceed 3 billion metric tons.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2008

Until well into the 1800s, most copper used in the U.S.A. had to be im­ported. Today, we are virtually self-suffi­cient and, worldwide, second only to Chile in production.

The United States was the world's largest copper producer until 2000; beginning in 2000, Chile became the world's leading copper producer. The USA now produces about 8% of the world's copper supply.

Copper Fact 2

Each year in the USA., nearly 45% as much copper is recovered from recycled material as is derived from newly mined ore. Excluding wire production, most of which uses newly refined copper, nearly two-thirds of the amount used by copper and brass mills, ingot makers, foundries, powder plants and other industries comes from recycled scrap.

Copper Fact 3

Almost half of all recycled copper scrap is old post-consumer scrap, such as discarded electric cable, junked automobile radiators and air conditioners, or even ancient Egyptian plumbing. (Yes, it's been around that long.) The remainder is new scrap, such as chips and turnings from screw machine production.

Copper Fact 4

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) reports that between 1.8 and 2 million tons of copper are recycled each year in the USA, about half of which is shipped abroad.

Copper Fact 5

Man has been recycling copper throughout history. During the Middle Ages, which saw frequent conflicts, bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) cannons were typically melted down after each war and made into more useful items. Discarded electrical wiring, plumbing tube, cartridge cases from the military, automobile radiators and production scrap are some of the main sources for reclaimed copper today.

Copper Fact 6

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, using recycled copper results in a saving of 85-90% of the energy that would have been needed to make new copper from virgin ores.