"Primary" Nickel and "Secondary" Nickel

All the nickel available to society today originally came from a mine.

The first time it came from a mine and went through smelter and/or refinery processes to become a usable metal, it was called "primary" nickel. When it came around for a second or subsequent time in industrial processes it was and is called "secondary" nickel.

While all nickel was once "primary" nickel, it does not follow that all "primary" nickel is new nickel.

While nickel is amongst the world's most highly recycled substances, the vast majority is recycled by the stainless steel, steel, copper and brass industries - and by companies that supply those industries with material.  But the "primary" nickel industry also takes in some "secondary" nickel, especially in its smelters.

In fact, there are some industrial wastes that are unattractive to the big recyclers of nickel. In such cases the omnivorous nature of nickel smelters may mean that a nickel-containing waste will be used that otherwise would go to landfill. Other times it is simple economics: which industry will pay the highest price for the nickel-containing material? Or which industry is closest to the material and thus has a smaller transport cost?

The "primary" nickel produced by the member companies of the Nickel Institute (roughly 75% of world annual production) contains approximately 2% nickel from "secondary" materials.

As the amount of nickel becoming available for recycling increases, the recycle content in "primary" nickel can be expected to increase modestly over time.

In most cases, however, it will be environmentally and economically more efficient for most nickel to be recycled as it is today: by the stainless steel industry.