What is zinc?
Zinc is a chemical element and is found in relative abundance in the Earth’s crust, although only bound in ores. Its name is derived from the German word ‘Zinke’ or ‘Zind’, meaning tooth or spike, as zinc crystallises in pointed shapes. It is a brittle metal with a blueish-white colour. If zinc comes into contact with oxygen, a weather-resistant protective layer of zinc oxide and zinc carbonate forms on the surface. For this reason, zinc is also used for corrosion protection, for example for galvanising iron, steel components and guttering. Zinc is a component in important enzymes and is therefore essential for all living things.
Where is zinc used?
Zinc is predominantly used to protect iron from rust. Due to its good electrical conductivity, metallic zinc is also a key material in non-rechargeable batteries and, to a lesser extent, in rechargeable batteries. In construction, zinc is used in sheet form on roofs and façades, and for drainage purposes.
The methods for recycling zinc are as varied as the ways the material itself can be processed. Sheets of zinc on roofs or building façades can last for hundreds of years. Where a building is demolished, the sheets are then melted down as they are and reproduced with no loss in quality. In order to separate the zinc coating from steel scrap, the mixed material is melted down and the zinc dust collected and reprocessed. Brass scrap is recycled in situ by the brass industry and metallic zinc scrap is sorted, shredded and processed into secondary zinc and zinc alloys at secondary zinc smelting plants.
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