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Gold recycling at Umicore as part of a sustainable circular economy

The main popular image of gold is a safe haven for investment, but its use in products and technology is determined by its unique physical and chemical properties, as is the case for other precious metals. The intrinsic value of gold in the eyes of society has embedded its value throughout history. This value is so great that over 90% of the gold mined in history is still in use, meaning that we can assume that gold from ancient Egypt times is still in our economy. Gold is also kept in the circular economy by recycling which has become highly efficient over time. Recycling is a key component of Umicore’s business model and our know-how closes the loop efficiently and sustainably.

At Umicore we differentiate two types of gold recycling activity.

In short loop recycling we offer recycling services to our product customers by recycling their residues and production scrap to help them maximize efficiency by transforming the recovered materials into new products. Umicore receives gold as a secondary material from old jewelry and industrial scrap, and production scrap such as “sweeps”, gold that has been deliberately swept from jewelers’ shop floors. These scraps are transformed into new semi-products such as coin blanks, rings, sheets, and tubes used by our customers for the same applications and markets.

Long loop recycling addresses more complex waste streams such as mobile phones and printed circuit boards and the process to recover valuable materials including gold requires a different and more specialized metallurgical process.

While Umicore is a leader in both areas, over 90% of gold recycling follows the short loop due to its main high-grade applications. The market is very competitive and Umicore’s differentiation is to  combine the perfect closed loop with its recycling capabilities and capacities and a complete product portfolio, perfectly matching the demand of recycling to the supply of new qualified products.  

The remaining 10% of gold recycling follows the long loop, which is a very different story presenting a number of challenges.  For recycling of  end-of-life consumer goods such as mobile phones, the challenges are primarily in proper collection and in providing a high-quality treatment process. Umicore’s innovative and eco-efficient process guarantees high quality recycling, recovering a wide range of valuable materials with high yields and a strong environmental performance including the safe elimination of hazardous substances. By meeting such challenges along the value chain we ensure a true circular economy. This sustainable urban mining increases the percentage of gold recycling through the long loop.

Umicore’s sustainability approach in the value chain has established its gold production and products as conflict-free. Umicore’s CoC-gold products are certified by the Responsible Jewelry Council’s Chain of Custody program, guaranteeing the integrity of our operations.