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Quantifying longevity and circularity of copper for different resource efficiency policies at the material and product levels

Stefanie Klose and Stefan Pauliuk

Journal of Industrial Ecology, 2021, vol. 25, issue 4, 979-993

Abstract: Resource efficiency strategies are emerging on policy agendas worldwide. Commonly, resource efficiency policies aim at decreasing losses at the waste management stage and, thus, diverge from public interest in more comprehensive resource efficiency measures that include a focus the earlier material life cycle stages. Just in recent years, improvements in the lifetimes of products and increased repair and reuse ability have become policy objectives in some countries. However, the effectiveness of policy measures is usually not assessed, even though it is crucial to support informed policy‐making and efficiently decrease the environmental impact of resource use. In this paper, we provide such an assessment for the copper cycle, the third most consumed metal with sharply increasing demand. Under current practices, in Western Europe and North America, 50% and 44% of the losses by 2050 occur at end‐of‐life collection, and only 2% of losses take place at the recovery stage; in Middle East and Africa for 19% and 54%, respectively. By 2050, most copper would be lost in China with a proportion of 58%. We evaluate the resource efficiency by quantifying the two key parameters, circularity and longevity, that is, how often and how long the material is in use in the anthroposphere. Our results show that the current global longevity of high‐grade copper is 47 ± 2.5 years, and a copper atom is used in 2.1 ± 0.1 applications on average. Ambitious political measures across the life cycle can increase longevity by 85% and circularity by 45%.

Date: 2021
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