Since copper is one of the most industrially most important metals, it is also one of the metals that is most viable to be recycled commercially. Mostly due to economic development in China, the price of copper has increased from about one dollar a pound at the start of the century to four dollars now.

Recyclable copper materials are sorted into several categories, depending on the quantity and ease of extraction of the copper inside of it. Near the top is pure copper, or close to pure copper, as would occur in certain type of heat sinks, plumbing and wires stripped of their insulation. Below that is materials that have sizable amounts of copper, such as engines, power supplies and insulated wires. And below that, in ever decreasing amounts, are the materials that have small amounts of copper hidden away in them. Most consumer electronics such as DVD players, stereos or VCRs are mostly plastic, but have a very small amount of copper in them. "A very small amount" is a relative term, though, since the average source of copper ore mined from the ground is still only around 1% copper. So a Tiger Handheld LCD game from 1984 that is 2% copper by weight is still very rich in relative terms. For this reason, even marginal sources of copper are economically viable for recycling.

Copper recycling is such a lucrative line of business that the theft of copper has become a major problem in some areas. In part fueled by the use of methamphetamine, thieves have taken to stripping copper wire from telephone poles, as well as other such acts. This leads to problems for everyone involved, and law enforcement agencies have attempted to curb this crime. That notwithstanding, the recycling of copper for industrial use is still an environmentally and economically important activity.