Copper and the environment

Copper is a naturally-occurring element present in the earth’s crust, oceans, lakes and rivers, from minute trace element levels through to rich mine deposits. It is an essential nutrient—plants, fish, animals and humans all need copper to function properly.

Copper is naturally present in all environments

Copper is found naturally in all waters, sediments and soils. It is a versatile material which is fully recyclable, corrosion resistant and durable. Copper is not carcinogenic, mutagenic or a reproductive toxicant, and under normal conditions of use, it does not cause any environmental harm in terms of being bio accumulative or toxic.

Copper is essential for humans, animals and plants

Copper is needed for maintaining and growing life, be this for humans, animals or plants. In humans, it is key to the fetus during pregnancy, to healthy brain function throughout life, and to the repair of wounds and injuries. The human body does not manufacture copper, so it needs to be obtained from food and water. Copper deficiency—which means consuming too little dietary copper—can lead to a range of serious diseases ranging from blood and blood vessel irregularities to abnormal bone formations and hypopigmentation of the skin.

If soil contains insufficient levels of copper, it cannot sustain productive arable farming. The world’s two most important food crops—rice and wheat—will not thrive in copper-deficient soil, leading to losses in yield and lower-quality outputs.

Did you know that the average percentage of copper in the earth’s crust is 0.005%?

Copper is present in the earth’s crust, in oceans, lakes and rivers, from minute trace element levels through to rich mine deposits.

Copper helps reduce harmful carbon emissions

Copper is an essential material in building the energy systems of the future. It plays an important role in renewable energy systems, such as solar, wind, tidal, hydro, biomass, and geothermal. Copper is the most highly-rated thermal and electrical conductor among the metals used in infrastructure and product design. Power systems utilising copper generate, transmit and use energy with higher efficiency, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and optimising lifecycle costs.

The Copper Industry is a responsible actor

Copper has a number of clear benefits for the environment as highlighted above. However, the copper industry is very mindful of any potential negative environmental impact of its activities and strives to protect the environment through reducing emissions and overall environmental impact of our activities. We also gather data to be able to evaluate, substantiate and mitigate potential concerns.

As an example, we have undertaken a voluntary comprehensive risk assessment, covering the production, use and end-of-life aspects of the copper metal value chain. It shows existing legislative framework generally safeguards Europe’s environment, the health of industry workers and the general public.

Copper is naturally present in the aquatic environment, but can also be released to it as a consequence of industrial manufacturing, consumer use and recycling. In Europe, the risks posed by copper to the aquatic environment are managed by legislation including REACH and the Water Framework Directive.

Accounting for the bioavailability of copper, using techniques such as the Biotic Ligand Model, resolves many of the difficulties.

We invite you to visit bio-met.net, a free online resource for anybody interested in using bioavailability-based approaches for assessing the risk of copper in the freshwater aquatic environment, particularly within the EU Water Framework Directive. This is a collaborative initiative led by the European Copper Institute, International Zinc Association and the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association (NiPERA).

Effects Based Methods are a promising new way of considering chemical substances under the Water Framework Directive. This report evaluates the Effects Based Methods that might be useful for metals.

Copper is naturally present in rivers and lakes. It can also originate from anthropogenic emissions, including point and diffuse sources. However, when dissolved copper enters natural waters, it is quickly removed from the water column as a result of natural processes.