Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Mining for metals in society's waste

October 1, 2015

Metals are crucial to society and enable our modern standard of living. Look around and you can't help but see products made of metals. For instance, a typical gasoline-powered automobile contains over a ton of iron and steel, 240 pounds of aluminum, 42 pounds of copper, 41 pounds of silicon, 22 pounds of zinc and more than 30 other mineral commodities including titanium, platinum and gold.

Metals and minerals are natural resources that human beings have been mining for thousands of years. Contemporary metal mining is dominated by iron ore, copper and gold, with 2 billion tons of iron ore, nearly 20 million tons of copper and 2,000 tons of gold produced every year. Tens to hundreds of tons of other metals that are essential components for electronics, green energy production, and high-technology products are produced annually.