“Also spare a thought for how the raw materials in your pots and pans were sourced. For example, it takes a lot of energy to refine aluminum, which accounts for the vast majority of top-of-the-range cookware sold in the United States. Mining and processing bauxite ore into a ton of aluminum takes about 91 gigajoules of energy. Compare that with 72 gigajoules for a ton of stainless steel from virgin sources and 32 gigajoules for a ton of copper.”
Nina Shen Rastogi, Slate.com
EPA analyses published in the Journal of Air Pollution Control, which tracked sulfur dioxide (SO₂) and carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions, as well as waste water controls and particulate emissions for copper mining in the US over the 15 years ending in 1983, report that in that period the copper smelting industry reduced all of the above and many another lesser pollutant by some 72%. The performance of copper smelters in the US has only improved since then with the advance of gas-fired smelting and electrical generation, as well as industrial consolidation.
Recycled metals of all kinds use substantially less energy to restore them to useful form as a raw material. Copper, since it is easily recycled from unalloyed scrap, is especially efficient; going from scrap to useful sheet metal uses less than 10% of the energy required to smelt ore into the same form.
Brooklyn Copper Cookware contains between 40 – 75% recycled pure copper. We have it milled to our specification so that it bonds perfectly with tin (itself substantially recycled, but far more variably). The portion that is not recycled is almost entirely smelted and milled in the US.
It goes without saying that recyclability works both ways. All the metals in Brooklyn Copper Cookware are 100% recyclable (although it’s hard to imagine a piece of BCC ever being recycled) and we capture and return nearly every bit of metal we cut away or spill for recycling. Being pure, the copper, tin and iron that doesn’t make it into a BCC pan can be repurposed with zero purification or other processing needed beyond melting, saving over 80 – 90% of the economic and environmental costs of recycling most metals, which are, as above, low compared to smelting new material.
On that note, although the US has some of the cleanest metal processing in the world today, copper smelting still produces approximately 5 – 5.5 pounds of carbon dioxide per pound of refined metal, which, as Nina alludes above, is relatively low among industrial metals. For comparison purposes, a cotton sweatshirt produces about as much CO₂ as a pound of copper. A 20 pound heavy copper roasting pan is responsible for slightly less CO₂ than the 5 pound Beef Round Roast (110 pounds CO₂) you might put in it.
Like nearly all manufactured goods, the environmental cost of making tin-lined copper cookware (with iron handles), while low relative to most other culinary metals, is not nothing. Even assuming 50% recycled materials and utilizing a high percentage of wind-generated electricity (for which Ohio (where we spin and tin) is fast becoming known), as close as we can figure our 3 quart sauté pan produces 3.7 pounds of SO₂, 28.2 pounds of CO₂ (over three times the pan’s weight), and uses 31 gallons of water to make.
At BCC we endeavor to minimize our carbon footprint in every way possible, right down to our office (GreenDesk office sharing) and the company car (ZipCar car sharing). We believe that to get where we wish to go we have to know where we are. While copper cookware is by no means carbon-neutral, its multi-variant energy efficiencies, recycled content and infinite renewability certainly qualifies it as carbon-minimal.