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The circular economy supermetal Blog post

While the importance of recycling in a circular economy is general knowledge, it is less known that most products and materials can only be recycled a finite number of times. This post underlines how the unique properties of gold enable it to be one of the most consistently recycled materials in the world. It also highlights how Voima’s ecosystem is built for something even better than recycling.

Recycled like no other

When assessing global recycling markets, several factors need to be taken into account. These include:
1) How many times can specific materials and products be recycled?
2) How frequently specific materials are actually recycled?

When it comes to the first issue, it is important to acknowledge that only very few materials can be recycled repeatedly. For instance, many types of plastic and paper are made of fibres that get shorter and decrease in quality every time they go through a recycling process. This means that, after a while, these materials typically have to be disposed of at a landfill or incinerated.

However, gold does not tarnish or decay over time, enabling it to be recycled over and over again without decreasing its purity, quality or value. Thus, as stated by the Boston Consulting Group [1], “all the gold ever mined still exists in some form”—making it one of the most recyclable materials in the world.

As for the second issue, although most materials can be recycled at least once, only very few actually end up so. Recycling rates remain excessively low for a large majority of goods. For example, only about 18% [2] of the plastic supply comes from recycled materials. Similarly, it has been estimated that, in the United States, only between 30–35% of aluminium and glass end up being recycled—the remaining being thrown in landfills or incinerated [3].

Thanks to its high value, gold has been consistently recycled throughout history. Furthermore, gold recycling is increasing significantly and is expected to continue to do so, driven by natural limits of gold supply and difficulties in prospecting. Umicore, a global leader in materials recycling, has even stated that by recycling one tonne of electronic devices, they are already able to extract at least 50 times more gold than by processing one tonne of mined ore [4]. Moreover, as a fun fact, 100% of the 5,000 medals distributed during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been made with metals extracted from mobile phones and waste electronics [5].

Better than recycling?

Since 2017, we at Voima have been building an autonomous and circular ecosystem based on physical gold. The ecosystem is primarily supplied with recycled gold from the Nordic countries, both from individual Customers and Miners.

In order to make recycling at Voima more appealing, we offer fast service, full transparency and fair pricing to everyone participating in the recycled precious metals industry.

But what would be better than simply recycling? It is to endlessly reuse the materials, and this is what Voima’s ecosystem has also been built for. Except in certain marginal cases, the gold simply changes hands without leaving the ecosystem. In other words, in addition to recycling materials, the Voima’s ecosystem also enables recycling ownership.

Now, you yourself can join Voima’s circular ecosystem by opening your own, free Voima Account!

Open a Voima Account

Recycling rates

Below, you can see a table that shows different materials, how many times they can be recycled and what is their rate of recycling.

Materials How many times can it be recycled [6] Recycling rate [7]
Gold Infinite 99–100%
Aluminium Infinite 30–40%
Steel Infinite 25–35%
Plastic 1–10 times 10–20%
Paper 5–7 times 65–75%
Glass Infinite 25–35%

Sources

[1] https://www.bcg.com/publications/2015/metals-mining-cost-efficiency-ups-and-downs-of-gold-recycling
[2] https://www.oecd.org/environment/waste/policy-highlights-improving-plastics-management.pdf
[3] https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling
[4] https://pmm.umicore.com/en/sustainability/
[5] https://olympics.com/tokyo-2020/en/games/medals-project/
[6] https://stlcityrecycles.com/how-many-times-can-this-be-recycled/
[7] https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling

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