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A triumphant 10 years for China’s non-ferrous recycling industry

China’s non-ferrous metals recycling industry has achieved extraordinary success in implementing the new development concept, reaching a new level in terms of total scale, raw material structures and technical capabilities. Data show that, over the 10-year period to 2021, it played an important role in promoting the high-quality and sustainable development of the non-ferrous metals industry as a whole.

China’s recycled non-ferrous metals output increased from 10.39 million tons in 2012 to 15.72 million tons in 2021 to give a grand total for the period of 130 million tons, including 31 million tons of copper, 64.65 million tons of aluminium, 19.47 million tons of lead and 14.49 million tons of zinc. The total contributed a quarter of the raw materials for the non-ferrous metals industry.

Over the same period, China utilized more than 100 million tons of domestic non-ferrous scrap (metal volume). The proportion of domestic recycled copper raw materials climbed from 41% in 2012 to 63% in 2021 while for aluminium the increase was from 50% to 87%. In 2021, the proportion of domestic raw materials in recycled non-ferrous metal raw materials reached 85%.

There was also an increase in the quantity and quality of imported raw materials over this period, with the total amounting to 49.02 million tons (physical volume), of which copper and aluminium metal contents in imported raw materials have exceeded, respectively, 94% and 91% since 2020. In 2021, imports into China of recycled copper/brass and recycled cast aluminium alloy raw materials were, respectively, 1.69 million tons (+79.46% year on year) and 1.02 million tons (+24.93%).

The contribution to carbon emission reduction has been huge. In the above period when compared with primary metal production, the non-ferrous metals recycling industry saved 270 million tons of standard coal and 18.3 billion cubic metres of water while also reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by 830 million tons, solid waste by 15.7 billion tons and sulfur dioxide by 6.86 million tons. In 2021 alone, carbon dioxide emission reduction was around 100 million tons.