Of all the base metals, copper in particular is used for a wide range of purposes. In spite of risks such as short-term metal prices and exchange rate fluctuations, demand is expected to continue growing over the long term, not least due to infrastructure development in emerging economies.
However, copper is a finite mineral resource that is produced in different areas worldwide. While competition for the resource is intensifying, excellent mines are becoming rare. Recently, securing clean copper concentrate is more important than ever because the locations of newly developed mines are higher or deeper than in the past and their quality of copper is lower, tending to contain more impurities, in addition to resource-holding countries’ protection of their resources and anti-development campaigns reflecting growing environmental awareness.
Since the closure of our Akenobe Mine in 1987, we have been reliant on imports from overseas mines for copper concentrates*, the main raw material used in our products. To ensure stable procurement, we have therefore continued to invest in overseas mines. Depending on our level of investment, we also assign personnel to mines in other countries, and provide support to ensure that mines are developed sustainably in the best interests of the environment and the local community.
Mechanisms and technologies to enable us to efficiently recycle resources are becoming increasingly important, in terms of securing stable supplies of metal resources and enabling the sustainable development of society as a whole.
In particular, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), such as televisions, computers and cellular phones contain large quantities of valuable metals such as precious metals and rare metals. These “urban mines”* are being thrust into the spotlight because they enable highly efficient extraction (recycling) of resources with minimal impact on the environment and local communities compared to natural mines.
In addition to the smelting and refining technologies that our group has built up over more than a century, for copper and other nonferrous metals, we have a wealth of technologies and expertise in recycling, and continue to actively work on recycling of E-Scrap (mainly printed circuit boards and other recyclable materials picked out from dismantled and crushed WEEE).
Alongside our high-level operational expertise and the “Mitsubishi Process,” a unique continuous copper smelting and converting process developed exclusively by Mitsubishi Materials, we have established a global collection network, and are constantly working to improve and reinforce acceptance and processing capacity, as well as services such as our online booking system.
In February 2018 we completed the construction of a collection plant in the Netherlands, handling activities such as intake, inspection and sampling of E-Scrap. This has increased the groupʼs annual E-Scrap intake and processing capacity to approximately 160,000 tons.
In recent years, we have been disposing of large quantities of electronic devices that have outlived their useful lifespan as WEEE. While these devices still have potential value as urban mines, there are concerns that they could also cause environmental contamination from lead, mercury or other harmful substances if they are processed inappropriately. The European Union (EU) is taking these concerns very seriously, and in 2003 introduced a directive to limit volumes, and promote the reuse and recycling of WEEE.
Within the EU, a certification scheme is being put in place for companies throughout the recycling chain, to encourage them to handle WEEE in an appropriate manner. In fall 2016, we became the first company in Japan to obtain certification under the Standard on End-Processing of WEEE Fractions (E-Scrap) at the Naoshima Smelter & Refinery and Onahama Smelter & Refinery (Onahama Smelting & Refining Co. Ltd.).
The Group will continue to build on the technologies and expertise developed so far, so that we can contribute to the sustainable development of society as a whole through international resource recycling, as a leading partner in responsible E-Scrap recycling.