How Nickel is Recycled

Metals are elements, part of the periodic table. They cannot be created artificially nor destroyed. The processes of mining and, depending on the nature of the ore, smelting, leaching and/or refining are used to take concentrations in nature (“deposits”) and further concentrate them to useful levels of purity. The use phase of metals, including alloys, doesn’t impact on that level of purity although there are losses due to wear, erosion or corrosion. At the end of the first use phase, however, the metals and alloys can be recovered and recycled. 

Depending on the economics, of which energy and chemical usage are prime determinants, the metals and alloys can be returned to their original state or a different but still valuable state. Examples involving nickel would be nickel-containing stainless steel scrap being turned into new stainless steel (same to same) or nickel from recycled batteries going into nickel-containing stainless steel (former use to new form). 

Note: "scrap" refers to material that has been used and is available for recovery. A common synonym also used is "secondary material”. This is in contrast to "primary" or "virgin" material that comes from mine production.

The following sections show that while nickel is highly recycled, it is not a single path but many separate alloy recycling loops. Very little nickel is recycled as nickel.  Methodologies that quantify nickel recycling (indices, recycling rates, etc.), need to define the nickel cycle broadly enough to embrace all these "alloy loops".


Recycling of Nickel-Containing Alloys

Recycling Stainless Steel

When Nickel is Not Recycled