HAO Min, CHEN Weiqiang*, MA Zijie, ZHANG Chao, GAN Jianbang
Copper is a critical metal of strategic importance. China has long imported two types of copper scrap, namely “category-6 copper scrap” and “category-7 copper scrap”, as materials for producing recycled copper. Based on the statistics of China Customs and the nonferrous metal industry, this study analyzes the resource availability, environmental and economic benefits, and environmental and health risks of copper scrap trade using material flow analysis and life cycle assessment. The results show that from 2000 to 2015, China imported around 66.8 million tonnes of copper scrap, which contained 20 million tonnes of copper and accounted for 56% of domestic output of recycled copper. Compared with copper production from domestic copper ores, producing recycled copper from imported waste and scrap avoided a range of environmental impacts, such as abiotic depletion potential (ADP), global warming potential (GWP), human toxicity potential (HTP), and so on, and saved USD 58 billion of investments in the mining industry. However, using imported “category-7 copper scrap” for copper refining has also contributed to regional ecological degradation, environmental pollution, and health risks. The smelting process of imported low-grade copper scrap that contains large amounts of organic compounds especially, has led to emissions of dioxins and other toxic substances. In addition, the underdeveloped technology, poor spatial layout, and poor management of many industrial parks and small enterprises have resulted in environmental and health hazards. Therefore, the benefits and risks brought by the imported copper scrap should be evaluated dialectically and comprehensively. While the imports of “category-7 copper scrap” such as “waste electric motors, wires, cables, and hardware and electrical appliances” that are used primarily for copper recycling should be prohibited, the imports of “category-6 copper scrap” should continuously be allowed to reduce China’s dependence on primary copper ores and the environmental impact resulting from the mining and smelting of raw ores.
copper waste and scrap, solid waste trade, benefit and risk analysis, material flow analysis, environmental impact assessment, industrial ecology, critical metal