Everything we rely on in society began from earth’s natural resources: water, air, oil, natural gas, coal and minerals. But these six primary resources are finite. According to a study by the Bureau of International Recycling, humans have consumed more resources in the last 50 years than in all previous history and the demand for raw materials continues to grow. While we speed far too quickly towards the exhaustion of natural resources, billions of tonnes of waste are sent to landfill every year across the globe.
The simple solution is the so-called ‘Seventh Resource’ – recycling what we already have.
The Global Recycling Day campaign says that each year, this Seventh Resource (recyclables) saves over 700 million tonnes in CO2 emissions and supplies 40% of the world’s raw material needs. But there is still so much that could be diverted from landfill. Key to conserving the earth’s six precious primary resources, achieving true sustainability and tackling climate change relies on effective recycling.
It’s our choice as individuals, industries, societies and the world as a whole, to recycle efficiently and effectively. Not only can we protect natural resources and our planet as a whole, recycling has a hugely positive effect on employment and the economy.
We’ve compiled some of the most fascinating stats we could find on global recycling, driven by our interest in recycling cars of course!
Global recycling facts
- The recycling industry employs millions of workers worldwide and generates billion’s of US dollars annually, with its contribution to global GDP projected to exceed $400 billion in the next 10 years.
- Globally, less than 20% of waste is recycled.
- As countries rise in income level, the number of recyclables in the waste stream increases, with paper increasing most significantly.
- Worldwide, we produce about 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, with some items taking upwards of 450 years to degrade. It’s estimated there is between 75 and 199 million tonnes of plastic currently in our oceans. The UK alone recycles over 350,000 tonnes of plastic a year.
- The UK recycling rate for waste from households is around 43%, with the rest heading to landfill. We have only improved our recycling rate by around 3% in the last decade.
- Glass is one of the most efficient materials to recycle and is cheaper to produce from recovered items than virgin raw materials. Unlike plastic, glass bottles and jars are fully recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without degradation of quality or purity.
- The world generated over 53 million metric tons of e-waste in 2019, and only 17.4% of this was officially documented as properly collected and recycled.
- Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world followed by South Korea, Austria and The Netherlands. In the 90’s, Germany introduced the world’s first duel recycling system for collecting waste from households and businesses and in 2020 recorded 67.1% recycling from all municipal solid waste.
Worldwide metal recycling facts
- People have been melting and re-melting metal since 700 BC.
- Recycling metal is estimated to create 36 times more jobs than producing new metal.
- All scrap metal recycling is more environmentally friendly than extracting and processing virgin material, as on average it generates 97% less mining waste and uses 40% less water.
- There are two main categories of scrap metal: ferrous and non-ferrous.
- Ferrous metals are primarily composed of iron and include all irons and steels. Their main properties are hardness, durability, strength and magnetism and are usually used in and recovered from automobiles, steel structures, household appliances, rail tracks, ships and farm equipment.
- Non-Ferrous metals include aluminium, copper, lead, nickel, tin and zinc and are among the few materials that do not degrade or lose their properties in the recycling process so they can be recycled infinitely. Non-Ferrous scrap is collected from a wide array of consumer and industrial sources such as circuitry, soft-drink containers, automobile batteries and aeroplane parts.
- Steel is the most recycled metal, with an estimated 600 million tonnes re-cycled worldwide each year.
- China is by far the world’s largest steel producer, making over 1,000 million tonnes a year. Approximately a quarter of that total is made from recycled scrap steel.
- Compared to manufacturing steel from raw materials, every tonne of recycled steel saves 1.5 tonnes of iron ore, 0.5 tonnes of coal, 70% of energy, 40% of water consumption, as well as 75% of CO2 emissions and 76% of water pollution.
- Aluminium can be infinitely recycled, but 7 million tonnes of it is still wasted each year across the globe. Recycling aluminium uses 95% less energy than primary production and each recycled tonne saves 14,000 kWh of energy – enough to meet the energy needs of an average home for over three years!
- Almost 40% of the world’s demand for copper is met using recycled material. Recycling copper, instead of extracting it from mined copper ore, reduces CO2 emissions by 65%.
- Zinc is the fourth most commonly-used metal in the world. It has many different applications including batteries, paints and vehicles. It’s easily recycled and often alloyed with materials such as brass and bronze. Production of recycled zinc uses 76% less energy than processing virgin material.
Global car recycling stats
- Automobiles are the most recycled consumer product in the world today.
- Every year, 27 million cars that have reached the end of their useful life are recycled across the globe.
- 14 million tonnes of steel is recycled annually from ELV cars. That’s enough to make roughly 2000 Eiffel Towers!
- In the UK we have to re-use and recycle 95% of every car. CarTakeBack’s network were the first to achieve this target and did so two year’s earlier than the regulation became law.
Around 25% of the steel used in new cars is supplied from recycled steel.
- Lithium (Li), found in electric car batteries, is rare and only present in small concentrations of the Earth’s crust. Advancements in battery recycling now means lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel can be safely recovered and reused in the production of new batteries.
- Zinc is heavily used in the construction of vehicles, with most cars containing around 10kg. It’s mainly for protection – plating the bonnet, fuel systems or chassis as it’s highly resistant to corrosive materials like salt. Every year, 2.9 million tonnes of zinc is recovered from scrap vehicles.
- In addition to the metal, it is possible to recycle windshields, batteries, oil, upholstery, bumpers and dashboards. More significant investment in the processing and recycling of these materials is what will enable the car industry to become truly sustainable.
What needs to happen next
While there are innovative projects underway across the globe recovering and recycling products and materials. we are still a long way from where we need to be.
Globally, these recycling issues need to be addressed:
- New product design must not only use recycled materials, but also make disassembly and material separation easier, so the cycle can continue as effectively as possible.
- Governments need to introduce stricter recycling regulations for industries to ensure end-of-life products are dealt with responsibly and the maximum materials are recovered for re-use and recycling.
- Waste management and recycling infrastructure needs to be supported in developing countries and emerging economies.
- Ongoing investment is needed in the improvement of recycling technologies and collection systems in developed countries.
- More education for the public to ensure domestic recycling is effective – such as cleaning and separating recyclables, composting and using specialist services for complex end-of-life products such as mobile phones, which often end up in dustbins.
- More work needs to be done to recover leaked waste already in the environment, such as plastics in our oceans, which can still be recycled.
If you’d like to find out more about recycling electric cars, you can check out our blog on the subject, we’re the experts!
The facts in this piece have been compiled from various sources including globalrecyclingday.com, bir.org, recyclemetals.org, tomorrowsworldtoday.com, trvst.world, ecowatch.com.