Resource consumption in the world is rising rapidly, driven by population growth and rising wealth, but the real doubt is, whether the earth has the capacity to support continuously escalating levels of resource extraction and disposal. These growing concerns about escalating resource extraction and disposal have contributed to the now widely accepted concept of sustainable development, which is broadly defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. It is generally considered that this will require greatly improved efficiencies in the use of resources and also major reductions in waste generation and emissions in order to break the link between economic expansion and resource consumption.
One way of achieving greater efficiency in resource use is by “dematerialisation”, which is broadly defined as the reduction in the amount of energy and materials required to service economic functions. Metals have the greatest potential for unlimited recycling. The elemental nature of metals means that they can virtually be reused and recycled indefinitely without loss of their properties.
The world’s demand for metals and especially green metals is growing because a transition to a low carbon or green economy requires green metals. Almost everything related to a low carbon economy from batteries to wind turbines, solar panels to hybrid cars require metals. The metals industry is the vibrant host to several new ecologically aware innovations, and they might be the key to sustainable growth and development.
The ability to recycle metals offers opportunities to conserve resources, reduce energy usage and minimise waste disposal, all of which represent important contributions to the sustainable development. However, it is recognized that there are practical and economic limits to the efficient collection, transportation, and recovery of metals for recycling. Given that metal recycling rates tend to decrease when metal prices fall, it may be necessary to devise economic drivers that encourage metal recycling when prices fall. Dematerialisation will complement materials recycling and will result in smaller and lighter products with longer service lives produced with lower materials and energy intensities.