Our Policy Areas

What are our chief areas of interest?

The European copper industry is engaged on a large number of policy areas, many of which are key to the sustainable growth of the European Union.

As examples, copper is vital to improving the efficiency and performance energy applications and to make transportation, architecture and heating and cooling systems more environmentally friendly.

At ECI, we are committed to working with the EU institutions to help meet high-level objectives on policy areas such as climate change, resource and energy efficiency, as well as the re-industrialisation of Europe. In doing so, it is vital that we create a framework that also safeguard the competitiveness of the sector on a global level. Key issues in this regard include the Emissions Trading Scheme, REACH implementation and energy pricing.

The EU and national governments are adopting increasingly complex copper regulations covering, for example, consumer and environmental protection, occupational health and safety, industrial processes and the transport of metal-containing wastes. Again, ECI is working with regulators to ensure that these regulations are appropriate in their measures, serving the intended purpose in a way that is not detrimental to copper production, development, or market access.

One of ECI’s core competencies is to use the vast array of historical and ongoing research on copper’s impacts on the environment and on human health to fill key data-gaps through independent research and to consolidate these findings into useful communications.

This section provides an overview of the most important policy areas the European Copper Institute is currently engaging on. They are:

  • Health and Environment
  • Energy and Climate
  • EU Emissions Trading System
  • Resource Efficiency

Health and Environment

As copper is an essential element—necessary for the health and wellbeing of humans, plants and animals—its environmental impact cannot be assessed in the same way as artificial chemicals.

The chemical form of copper is very important in determining its biological availability, or bioavailability to organisms in the environment. The forms, distribution, transport and potential organism uptake and effects of copper in water, sediment and soil depend largely on the chemical and physical characteristics of the local environment, as well as the bioavailability of different forms to each organism.

Copper’s environmental impact affects several areas of nature. Many organisms have developed physiological or metabolic means for regulating, excreting and/or detoxifying excess amounts of internal copper and other essential elements. Thus, copper concentrations in tissues are not a good indicator of potential toxic effects on the organism, making the concept of ‘bioaccumulation’—as is used for organic compound classification as a persistent-bioaccumulative-toxic [PBT] chemical—inappropriate.

Companies producing copper and semi-finished copper products are required to operate in compliance with increasingly demanding and complex environmental legislation, for example on emissions to air and water, plus the handling and storage of waste and hazardous substances.

ECI and its member companies are actively contributing to the development of methodologies to determine rules on environmental foot-printing and on indicators that appropriately reflect cradle-to-gate approaches. Other examples of policies relevant for copper products are the rules for materials in contact with food and drinking water, environmental quality standards for water, restrictions on hazardous substances in electronics and the end-of-life vehicle directive.

All copper products are directly or indirectly concerned by the safe use conditions defined under chemicals management legislation, such as the REACH Regulation 1907/2006.

The European Copper Institute is actively engaged on key files for the industry both directly, as ECI, and through Eurometaux, the European non-ferrous metals association.

For more information on our Health and Environment policies, click here to drop down resources.

Energy and Climate

Copper is a key enabler of the low-carbon economy. Its use in products and systems saves primary energy, CO2 emissions and money.

Copper is a highly efficient conduit: the best non-precious conductor of heat and electricity. This makes copper essential for both energy efficiency and renewable applications. In the latter it is used in renewable energy systems to generate power from solar, hydro, thermal and wind energy across the world. Additionally, copper helps the products containing it to operate at peak efficiency.

Copper therefore helps reduce CO2 emissions and lowers the amount of energy needed to produce electricity. At the same time, copper is circular: it is one of the few materials that can be recycled 100% over and over again without a loss in performance.

Because copper products are key enabling materials in combating climate change, their uses in renewables and energy efficient solutions are actively promoted in various EU energy policies, e.g. on energy efficiency, eco-labelling, Ecodesign, green public procurement and construction product directives.

The European Copper Institute is actively engaging on the key files of the Energy Union, both directly as ECI, through Leonardo Energy and DecarbEurope, two initiatives founded by ECI, Eurometaux and The Coalition for Energy Savings.

For more information on our Energy and Climate policies, click here to drop down resources.

EU Emissions Trading System

The European Emission Trading System (ETS) can be a powerful tool to fight climate change in a cost-effective way. While the European copper industry is supportive of the overall aim of the ETS, however, specific actions are needed to sustain competitiveness, growth and jobs.

Through significant capital investments, the EU copper producing industry has successfully reduced its own CO2 emissions by cutting its unit energy consumption by 60% versus 1990. Today, the industry’s emissions are around 4.5 million tonnes/year, a modest 0.1% of the EU total. Moreover, the European copper producers are amongst the most resource and energy efficient in the world[1].

Copper is highly exposed to carbon costs, both direct (e.g. from naturally-occurring ores), and those passed through via electricity prices (indirect effects). The European copper producers are price-takers, however, and unable to pass on costs such as those related to CO2 because copper prices are established globally via commodity exchanges such as London Metal Exchange (LME).

This makes it vital for ECI’s members to ensure that the ETS continues to protect the competitiveness of the best performers within energy-intensive industries. We also believe that the  societal contributions of copper products towards achieving the EU’s Climate Change and Circular Economy goals, should merit consideration under ETS.

We need to ensure that ETS protects the competitiveness of best performers within energy-intensive industries and prevents carbon leakage.

Resource Efficiency

Copper is 100% recyclable, without any loss in performance, and can therefore be reintroduced again and again into the material cycle. As such it is a perfect material for the circular economy.

Recycling prolongs the use of the earth’s natural resources and saves the energy otherwise consumed to process primary raw materials. Since copper recycling uses up to 85% less energy than mining production, today’s global recycling rates could save up to 85 million TWh of electrical energy, equivalent to the annual residential electricity consumption of 24 million families, thereby reducing CO2 emissions by 30 million tonnes per year.

The EU is leading worldwide when it comes to recycling copper, with about 50% of the annual copper need covered by recycled material. In fact, he EU is the only region of the world where some copper production sites use only recycled feedstock. Therefore, closing the material loop, by recovering copper and copper alloys from waste, is important for the copper industry, its downstream users and society at large.

Clearly, the recycling of any material needs to be carried out in compliance with EU and national legislation. However, this is easier said than done, Whilst waste legislation encourages recycling and strives to phase out landfill, other legislation seeks to further reduce industrial emissions to air, soil and water. As an example, recovering the copper and other metals from complex electronic scrap requires the combustion of the organic fraction. This requires more electricity and generates direct CO2 emissions, both of which are then penalised under the European Emission Trading Scheme.

Finally, as demand grows across the world, competition for raw material supplies is understandably increasing. To safeguard the competitiveness of its recycling facilities, the European copper industry is highly dependent on a steady supply of raw materials. The EU and Member States need to take further steps to ensure that high-tonnage waste streams, such as electric and electronic waste and end-of-life vehicles, both containing significant amounts of copper, stay in Europe and are recycled in our state-of-the-art installations.

For more information on our Resource Efficiency policies, click here to drop down resources.

[1] UNEP International Resource Panel’s “Metal Recycling: Opportunities, Limits, Infrastructure”.