In simple terms, product stewardship means promoting the safe production, use, recycling and disposal of metals and their products. More specifically this includes providing information on any potential product-related health or environment issues, as well as informing users – usually, the manufacturers of finished goods – on how best to use metals in their products.
Beyond the practical use of metals, responsible product stewardship involves investing in research to advance understanding of the specific properties of metals and their life cycle effects. The outcome of which, being a greater understanding of metals – either positive or negative – on human health and the environment, and improved support for more efficient recycling.
The recycling of useful materials also has a big role to play in supporting our future, as metals are infinitely recyclable – in theory at least.
Recycling scrap metal has many benefits. Most obvious is not having to manage the myriad challenges that can be associated with primary mining – particularly environmental, social and community impacts. Though opportunities offered by mining economies for development and poverty alleviation may also be lost.
Recycling also reduces the substantial amount of energy used in metals production, and by extension emissions, in the various smelting and processing operations that are needed to make metal from virgin ore. The overall energy savings using recycled rather than primary metals has been estimated to be of the order of:
- 92 per cent for aluminium
- 90 per cent for copper
- 75 per cent for steel.
Recycling then appears to be an attractive way to produce metals. But, often in reality metals are required in their current applications for very long periods of time before they can be reused or recycled. The steel, copper and aluminium in a building today may, for example, not be available for recycling for another 100 years.