Environment and health
In 2000, the copper industry initiated a voluntary risk assessment for copper. The assessment process was agreed with the Italian Government’s Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Italy acting as the review country on behalf of the European Commission and the EU Member States. The copper risk assessment has been completed and extensively reviewed by the European Commission and EU Member States.
The 1,800-page dossier comprehensively assesses the health and environmental impact of copper during its production, use, recycling, and disposal. Information from the producers of anodes, cathodes, copper powders and copper chemicals, as well as from many semi-fabricators, cable companies and other downstream users, was collected from over 100 sites across the EU.
This comprehensive assessment, covering the production, use and end-of-life aspects of the copper value chain, shows that the existing legislative framework safeguards Europe’s environment, the health of industry workers and the general public.
With this risk assessment, the copper industry is meeting its duty of care to all stakeholders by demonstrating the safe use of its products for the environment and for human health.
Life cycle assessment
The embodied energy of a material (in J/kg) is a measure of the total energy consumed during every phase of the life cycle of a product, from “cradle to gate”, so for copper this includes energy used during mining and extraction, recycling and manufacture. The long life and recyclability of copper products have a positive impact on their embodied energy.
The copper industry has developed up-to-date life cycle data for its tube, sheet and wire products. The information has been prepared in co-operation with recognised life cycle practitioners, using international methodologies (ISO standards), and proprietary production data collected from across the copper industry. For more information visit www.copper-life-cycle.org.
Conserving our resources
Sustainability of materials is something that impacts all parts of the construction sector and is an increasingly important concern in modern buildings. The copper industry has worked hard to produce information on the environmental performance of its products and the results are very positive.
The recycling of copper is well established and plumbers have always sold off-cuts and decommissioned pipework and cylinders that have reached the end of their lives into the recycling chain.
• Copper is 100% recyclable, with no loss in properties. Recycled copper can be used for exactly the same applications as newly mined copper.
• Recycling helps to meet the growing demand for copper, helping to preserve natural resources.
• In Europe around 50% of the copper demand is satisfied by recycled material.
• Copper tube manufacturers use on average more than 50% recycled materials in their tubes.
• Recycling uses up to 85% less energy than would be used to mine and produce the same copper, whilst helping to conserve fossil fuels and reduce CO2 emissions.
Copper has been recycled for at least 10,000 years and today is the most recycled plumbing material. As professional plumbers you play your part in ensuring that no copper scrap goes to landfill.
Copper is well known for being essential for human health.
• For centuries copper pipes and vessels have been used to convey clean drinking water.
• We all need a daily intake of copper in our diets to maintain good health. Chocolate and nuts are two good sources of copper.
• Copper is a micro-nutrient, vital for all forms of plant and animal life, ensuring soil fertility and productivity.
Copper is important for delivering fresh, clean, wholesome drinking water, for generating and supplying electricity and for our health. Recyclability increases copper’s value to society in that it helps to conserve natural resources. Use of recycled copper also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Recycled copper is totally comparable to new copper, therefore no copper need ever go to waste.
With so many positive attributes, copper will play a key role in the development of sustainable buildings and one of its main applications will continue to be in plumbing and heating systems.