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Circular 1196-AA

Flow Studies for Recycling Metal Commodities in the United States

Overview of Flow Studies for Recycling Metal Commodities in the United States

By Scott F. Sibley

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Metal supply consists of primary material from a mining operation and secondary material, which is composed of new and old scrap. Recycling, which is the use of secondary material, can contribute significantly to metal production, sometimes accounting for more than 50 percent of raw material supply.

From 2001 to 2011, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists studied 26 metals to ascertain the status and magnitude of their recycling industries. The results were published in chapters A–Z of USGS Circular 1196, entitled, “Flow Studies for Recycling Metal Commodities in the United States.” These metals were aluminum (chapter W), antimony (Q), beryllium (P), cadmium (O), chromium (C), cobalt (M), columbium (niobium) (I), copper (X), germanium (V), gold (A), iron and steel (G), lead (F), magnesium (E), manganese (H), mercury (U), molybdenum (L), nickel (Z), platinum (B), selenium (T), silver (N), tantalum (J), tin (K), titanium (Y), tungsten (R), vanadium (S), and zinc (D). Each metal commodity was assigned to a single year: chapters A–M have recycling data for 1998; chapters N–R and U–W have data for 2000, and chapters S, T, and X–Z have data for 2004. This 27th chapter of Circular 1196 is called AA; it includes salient data from each study described in chapters A–Z, along with an analysis of overall trends of metals recycling in the United States during 1998 through 2004 and additional up-to-date reviews of selected metal recycling industries from 1991 through 2008.

In the United States for these metals in 1998, 2000, and 2004 (each metal commodity assigned to a single year), 84 million metric tons (Mt) of old scrap was generated. Unrecovered old scrap totaled 43 Mt (about 51 percent of old scrap generated, OSG), old scrap consumed was 38 Mt (about 45 percent of OSG), and net old scrap exports were 3.3 Mt (about 4 percent of OSG). Therefore, there was significant potential for increased recovery from scrap. The total old scrap supply was 88 Mt, and the overall new-to-old-scrap ratio was 36:64. On a weighted-average basis, the recycling rate overall for these metals was 40 percent, and the estimated efficiency of recovery was 63 percent. New scrap consumed was 21 Mt. The United States was a net exporter of most scrap metals, and the net exports of 3.3 Mt were valued at $2 billion in constant 1998 dollars. Metals show a wide range of recycling rates, recycling efficiency, and new-to-old-scrap ratios. Recycling rates cluster in the range from 15 to 45 percent, whereas efficiencies are fairly evenly distributed over a range from 7 to 97 percent.

First posted October 10, 2011

For additional information contact:
Scott F. Sibley
U.S. Geological Survey
989 National Center
12201 Sunrise Valley Dr.
Reston, VA 20192
Telephone: (703) 648-4976



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Suggested citation:

Sibley, S.F., 2011, Overview of flow studies for recycling metal commodities in the United States, chap. AA of Sibley, S.F., ed., Flow studies for recycling metal commodities in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1196, p. AA1–AA25, available only at





Supply of Secondary Material

General Recycling Flow Chart

Derivation of Recycling Rate and Recycling Efficiency

Recycling Rate

Recycling Efficiency

Recycling Rate and Recycling Efficiency Comparisons

New-to-Old-Scrap Ratio

Recycling Rate and New-to-Old-Scrap Ratio Changes Over Time




Iron and Steel









Acknowledgments and USGS Sources of Information

References Cited


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