Looking around the office, chances are you can identify half-a-dozen products incorporating some type of metal. Metals found in the workplace include stainless and coated steel, aluminum, brass, bronze, and copper. The raw ingredients of metal products are found underground in large concentrations across the globe. Like oil and other natural resources deposited in earth’s crust, the elements that compose metals exist in finite quantities and are not renewable by any practical measure. As we continue to mine for elemental metals it will become increasingly difficult for earth to satisfy the demands of a booming human population. The process of extracting, refining, and casting metal is inherently destructive, permanently altering landscapes, destroying ecosystems, and releasing a trail of waste and pollutants into the land, water, and air.
When buying products that incorporate metal it is best to look for the highest degree of recycled content available. It is increasingly easy to find steel with significant amounts of industrial recycled content and many aluminum products incorporate high levels of post-consumer recycled content. It is also a good idea to consider products that use alternative materials to the same ends. Furniture is a good example of a product that can be made from metal, wood, or plastic. Instead of a desk made from virgin steel, you might choose one made from recycled- or sustainably-sourced wood, or from plastic with 30% or more post-consumer recycled content.
- Look first for metals with post-consumer recycled content.
- Look second for metals with industrial recycled content.
- When recycled content metals are not available, consider alternative products made from sustainably sourced or recycled material.
For consumers of metal products the best practice is to follow responsible purchasing guidelines: look for recycled content and buy the most sustainable alternative when recycled options do not exist. More active steps include applying political, legal, and community organizing pressure on producers in order to promote the development and implementation of more sustainable production processes. Manufacturers and distributors of products that incorporate metal can make positive change by sourcing recycled metal and by seeking environmental and human health precautions from their supply chain partners. Finally, members of the extraction and processing industries can design production systems that account for the full impacts of operation, minimizing waste and pollution and protecting surrounding ecological habitats.