Copper is an everyday part of nearly everyone’s life. In fact, copper has been used by different cultures for thousands of years. Some archeological evidence points toward copper as being one of the very first metals used by humans to create weapons, utensils and jewelry. Copper shares many properties with silver and gold and is valued in modern times for its beauty and electrical conductivity.
What, exactly, is copper? Copper is an element and has an atomic number of 29. It sits between nickel and zinc on the periodic table and is a non-ferrous transition metal. Copper is highly ductile, which means that it is easily worked with metalworking tools and can be pulled into wire. Copper is also an essential nutrient that helps with the absorption of iron in the body, but in high concentrations it can be toxic. Copper is also used on different surfaces to inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi.
As an electrical and thermal conductor, copper is one of the best. It is used for electrical wiring in buildings and in electronics. Because of its non-corrosive nature, copper is also used in cooking pots and utensils. While copper is reasonably non-corrosive, it does oxidize. This oxidization produces a blue green color, which makes it very useful for creating pigments that are used in inks and paints. When alloyed with tin or zinc, copper can be used to create bronze and brass. Brass is used extensively in the construction of musical instruments and different types of fittings that require resistance to corrosion.
In its raw ore state, copper is generally found compounded with other elements and must be refined. The refining process is fairly simple and the result is pure raw copper. The newly exposed surface of copper is pinkish in color, but as this element forms a patina, it becomes a deep, earthy red. The color variances in copper and the patina that forms on it make it very popular for use in jewelry. Hydrated copper sulfide, which is one of the most well known copper compounds can be used in water purification to help prevent the growth of algae and as an agricultural herbicide.
As a recyclable, copper rates as one of the best. It is estimated that roughly 80% of all copper that has ever been mined is still in use today in some form. This is due to the fact that it is one of the most recyclable metals available. The recycling process for copper generally brings it back to its original state, which makes it particularly attractive to the recycling industry.
Because of its many uses, copper will continue to be one of the most highly valued recyclable metals. For over 10,000 years humans have understood this value and have been using copper for many different things. Copper is and will continue to be an important component in our daily lives.