War — What is it good for?

Circular World™ Media
6 min readMar 11, 2024

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Currently, two wars are being fought — the war in Gaza and in the Ukraine with a number of unreported skirmishes around the world. War and the military, in general, is a very resource-intensive industry. Just how much we do not know. Most of the statistics and assumptions are focused on emissions and fossil fuel consumption. There appears to be very little information related to the volume of primary raw materials that go into making weapons, tanks, artillery, warships and submarines, military aircraft, ammunition, electronics, etc.

An unexploded missile in Ukraine, April 2022. Drop of Light / shutterstock (label added by author)

Repurposing Waste

Bunker busters are bombs designed to penetrate underground military bunkers. During the Iraq war, a new type of bunker buster was developed to destroy Iraqi bunkers that were so well reinforced and deeply buried in the sand they defied existing munitions. To make bunker busters that can go even deeper, designers had to make the weapon heavier. One way to make a bunker buster heavier is to use a metal that is heavier than steel.

One material that is both extremely strong and extremely dense is depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear power industry and has certain properties to create extremely heavy, strong and narrow bombs that have tremendous penetrating force. The problem with depleted uranium is the fact that it is radioactive and, at the end of any conflict, leaves tons of radioactive material in the environment.

Resources for War

Minerals are the foundation for warfighting technology, including defence platforms and munitions. Virtually every military system requires mineral components, from steel, titanium to graphite composites, cadmium alloys, chromium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, and nickel used in alloys with iron; antimony and tin, essential for making engine bearings; and magnesium, which is used for incendiary weapons or alloyed with aluminum for aircraft manufacture. As total global military expenditure increased by 3.7% in real terms in 2022 to reach a new high of $2240 billion, so has the demand for minerals for defence.

War and the Circular Rs

In Syria, Hassan Abu Malik and his family make a living out of collecting shrapnel and unexploded shells to recycle the parts. Shells are converted into heaters or primitive cooking tools for homes, while blacksmiths and other workers come to Abu Malik. “We also sell gunpowder to construction workers as it helps them to blow up rocks and turn them into stones for construction,” he told journalist Mustafa Dahnon from Middle East Eye.

Weapons experts suggest that about 10% of munitions usually don’t explode. However, for Israel, with some of its US-made munitions going back to the era of the Vietnam War, the rate might be as high as 15%, as per intelligence sources cited by the New York Times . This means that weapons that Israeli forces have deployed throughout its numerous assaults on Gaza for the past 17 years are now being turned against them by Hamas. “They (Hamas) are cutting open artillery bombs from Israel, and a lot of them are being … repurposed for their explosives and rockets,” said Michael Cardash, the former deputy head of the Israeli National Police Bomb Disposal Division.

A team in Cambodia are ‘ closing the circuit ‘ and has harvested nearly 33,000 ordnance items since 2005. By March 2022, these remnants of war were recycled into more than 584,000 explosive charges used to destroy unexploded ordnance.

https://southeastasiaglobe.com/recycling-the-remnants-of-war/

The image above shows a Type 72b anti-personnel landmine before (left) and after (right); an explosive charge harvested from ordnance deemed safe to move and the explosive materials within declared usable, the recycling process begins. The 100-gram (3.5 ounce) charges, or electric blasting caps, are given to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre to be distributed among demining crews, who use the charges to destroy ordnance items unsafe to move. The landmine above was detected in Tuol Kruos village in Siem Reap province.

https://recycling-revolution.com/ammo-brass-recycling-prices.html

Reusing and recycling brass ammunition is big business in the US. Everyone from Recycling Revolution, a decentralized organization made up of volunteers who are dedicated to promoting practical, eco-friendly solutions and protecting the environment, collects brass casings to recycle and reduce the need for new material extraction, thereby lessening the strain on our planet’s finite resources.

On the other end of the spectrum is the US company Capital Cartridge, which supplies once-fired brass shell casings for commercial and recreational reloading — the reuse of ammunition. Their proprietary systems efficiently process and accurately sort hundreds of thousands of pounds of brass ammunition for reloading. In a 2013 Reuters article, Americans buy some 10 billion to 12 billion bullets every year, including military and law enforcement, according to estimates by the industry. The guns and ammunition industry recorded revenue at $20.8 billion in a 2023 report from Ibis World market research.

Conclusion

Although there is a lot of activity being generated from spent munitions, including unexploded bombs and landmines, we still do not know how much primary raw materials are being diverted into the global military-industrial complex. There is almost no transparency making it almost impossible to consider how a secondary raw materials industry may reutilise these materials.

As we face increasing resource scarcity, there will be growing pressure for more information. Future wars will not be fought by technological advances but by a company’s ability to procure the primary raw materials to even manufacture the basic needs for the military. Peace, it seems, does not appear to be an option.

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Ms Adrienna Zsakay is the Founder and CEO of Circular Economy Asia Inc, and this article represents her opinions on the circular economy. Circular Economy Pick of the Week is brought to you by Circular World™ Media — a brand owned by Circular Economy Asia Inc.

References

How to assess the carbon footprint of a war ‘ by Benjamin Neimark, Senior Lecturer, School of Business Management, Queen Mary University of London, published by Th Conversation, 12 December 2023.

‘How Bunker Busters Work’ by Marshall Brain, published by How Stuff Works, updated 07 March 2024.

‘World military expenditure reaches new record high as European spending surges’ published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 24 April 2023.

‘Minerals for War: British Columbia’s Production of Mercury and Tungsten during the Second World War’ by Robert G McCandless, BC Studies, Vancouver Issue 211, Autumn 2021.

‘In pictures: In northern Syria, recycling remnants of war is a family business’ by Mustafa Dahnon, Middle East Eye, 03 April 2021.

‘Hamas recycling unexploded Israeli bombs in Gaza: report’ published by The New Arab, 28 January 2024.

‘Recycling the Remnants of War’ by Anton L. Delgado, published by South East Asian Globe, 12 May 2022.

‘Ammo Brass Recycling Prices’ by Jen Wheeler, published by Recycling Revolution, 15 May 2023.

‘What’s missing in U.S. gun control scramble? Bullets’ by Peter Henderson and Daniel Trotta, published by Reuters, 20 January 2013.

Guns & Ammunition Manufacturing in the US — Market Size, Industry Analysis, Trends and Forecasts (2024–2029)

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

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Circular World™ Media

Circular World™ Media is owned by Circular Economy Asia Incorporated. Registered in Australia, based in Malaysia. We focus on resource management & efficiency