Exploring the Silver Reserves: How Much Silver is There in the World?
Silver is classed as a precious metal not only because it’s great for making beautiful jewellery, but also due to its relative scarcity. There simply isn’t that much silver in the world. The supply of natural metals like silver is also impinged by the fact that much of it remains stuck in the earth, while some is discarded after use, despite increasing amounts being recycled.
It makes sense that calculating the overall amount of silver in the world is a case of combining the total sum mined to date with the estimated remaining quantity in the ground. Available silver supply directly impacts the silver price. So we then need to weigh up how much of the silver already mined out of the ground is lost after use and the amount which is recycled into other products.
Finally, we consider the relationship between silver recycling and production to consider how long it could take to mine the rest of the world’s silver.
The official figures from the US Geological Survey (USGS), suggests that there are approximately 1.74 million metric tons of silver that have been mined globally. However, pinning down an exact number presents inherent challenges and leads to a diverse range of estimates as low as 560,000 metric tonnes.
One of the primary culprits in this lack of precision is the conflicting data emanating from sources like the Silver Institute. While these institutions aim to provide accurate figures, disparities arise due to the nature of silver extraction itself. Silver is often extracted incidentally as a byproduct of mining other metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. As miners focus on extracting these primary metals, they inadvertently stumble upon silver deposits. This dual-purpose extraction makes it challenging to discern how much silver is extracted intentionally versus incidentally.
Furthermore, the secondary nature of silver mining means that its production is heavily influenced by the dynamic demand for primary metals. In times when demand for copper or zinc surges, silver production experiences a subsequent increase, adding an additional layer of complexity to accurate tracking.
In essence, while the 1.74 million metric tonnes figure is the best approximation available, the true extent of silver extraction remains a fluid figure without consensus, continually shaped by the demand for other metals and the evolving landscape of global mining practices.
According to Statista as of 2022 there remained approximately 550,000 tonnes of silver within the ground available for mining. Determining the Earth’s silver reserves also relies on estimations rather than precise figures due to the multifaceted nature of mining dynamics.
Unearthed silver isn’t uniformly distributed, with a portion residing in locations necessitating advanced technologies or innovative mining methodologies to reach it. Therefore, it can’t be assumed that the planet’s remaining unmined silver is accessible to extract.
Free ultimate guide for keen precious metals investors
According to estimates from industry sources, if silver mining were to continue at current annual rates, there are roughly 20 years’ worth of identified and undiscovered global silver reserves remaining. However, that assumption is based on silver extraction levels remaining constant and no new reserve discoveries.
The actual pace at which these natural reserves will be mined relies on several factors including demand for silver and primary metals, and the proportion of silver that’s recycled. The easiest silver to extract will always be mined first, meaning that as reserves dwindle, extraction will become increasingly difficult and expensive, likely slowing the rate of mining. If recycling of existing silver increases, the need for mining to meet demand will also reduce.
Higher silver prices could likely expand the economically feasible reserves by making mining of lower grade deposits cost effective. Additionally new discoveries do occur, albeit quite rarely for silver given most major deposits have been identified through modern surveying. While we’re not running out of silver tomorrow, we also can’t pinpoint exactly how much is left and how long it will last, although some experts predict around a century.
Examining the annual production of silver reveals the quantity at which newly mined silver enters the market and potentially grows the overall aggregate of silver in the world.
On a global scale, the yearly output of silver is around 25,000 metric tonnes, reflecting the combined efforts of key players within the mining industry. This number fluctuates slightly each year but has increased around 20% in the past two decades.
Mining companies are strategically positioned across the globe to exploit reserves and contribute to the overall silver supply. In 2022 Mexico led the way, producing and refining more than 6,000 metric tonnes, contributing around a quarter of the globe’s new silver supply. China and Peru claim second and third spots, mining less than half of Mexico’s annual total, at just over 3,000 tonnes each.
The annual mining of silver is subject to fluctuations influenced by multifaceted factors. Economic conditions, technological advancements in mining practices, and the evolving demands of industries all contribute to variations in production levels. Notably, surges in demand for silver-intensive products, such as solar panels, often prompt an increase in production to meet market needs.
It may be tempting to assume that the amount of readily available silver supply is increasing slightly, after all mining production is holding steady at around 25,000 tonnes, an increase from around 20,000 tonnes in the early 2000’s.
But it’s estimated that up to an astonishing 90% of mined silver has been discarded forever, depleting the available supply. This “throwaway” mentality is countered by a growing movement to recycle unwanted silver items to be re-imagined into new items.
The pace at which we mine existing silver reserves is influenced by this balance between our consumption habits and recycling efforts. Recycling plays a pivotal role in extending the life of mined silver, creating a sustainable loop that reduces our reliance on fresh extraction.
The silver we’ve already mined has found its way into a myriad of applications – from electronics to medical devices. As these products age or become obsolete, they contribute to what’s often referred to as the “urban mine,” representing a potential source for recycling.
In essence, while we’re not on the brink of running out of silver, it’s crucial to strike a balance between responsible extraction, efficient recycling, and technological innovation. The future availability of mined silver is intertwined with our ability to navigate these factors, ensuring a sustainable path forward in utilizing this valuable resource.
4 simple steps to sell your silver coins
It’s estimated that around 25-30% of the global silver supply now comes from recycled silver annually.
In 2022, the Silver Institute reported that 222 million ounces (oz) of silver, equivalent to just under 7,000 metric tonnes, were recovered through recycling. This totalled about 28% of overall silver supply for the year, combining mining production, recycling, and producer net hedging/de-hedging.
Over the decade from 2010-2019, recycled silver averaged 199 million oz per year, making up around 26% of annual global supply on average. Again, there’s no consensus on recycling figures, with other analysts estimating the figure to be slightly lower at around 180,000 mt. Obviously the Silver Institute’s goal is to promote silver, so it’s more likely to publish optimistic numbers than neutral analysts.
The amount of silver recycled tends to track closely with economic activity and silver price levels. Sources of recycled silver include end-of-life jewellery, electronics, silverware and ornaments, photography film/chemicals, and industry. Not to be confused with junk silver coins which can be traded, this scrap silver is increasingly recycled by consumers seeking cash amidst a cost-of-living crisis.
As sustainability and thrift become more prominent, improved rates of silver recycling are helping supplement mining deposits as a key supply stream for the metal’s numerous applications.
Sustainable silver recycling involves a concerted effort to balance environmental responsibility with the ongoing demand for this precious metal. Recycling silver isn’t just a feel-good practice; it’s a strategic move toward a more sustainable and resource-conscious future.
At its core, sustainable silver recycling hinges on efficient collection systems and advanced refining processes. Instead of letting used silver end up in landfills, recycling programs aim to recover and repurpose it. This not only conserves a finite resource but also mitigates the environmental impact associated with fresh mining activities.
One key player in this sustainability game is technology. Modern refining techniques allow us to extract silver from recycled materials with impressive precision. This not only reduces the need for extensive mining but also minimizes the energy and environmental footprint associated with traditional extraction methods.
Industries are increasingly recognizing the importance of closed-loop systems, where silver used in products today can find its way back into manufacturing processes tomorrow. This circular approach helps extend the lifespan of mined silver, lessening our reliance on new extractions. Many jewellers will offer a recycled sterling silver range to support their green credentials.
Consumer awareness and participation play a pivotal role. Proper disposal of products containing silver and supporting recycling initiatives contribute to the success of sustainable practices. As we become more conscious of the environmental impact of our choices, we’re collectively steering towards a future where silver is not just a valuable resource but a responsibly managed one.
With silver already classified as a precious metal, the fact that far less silver remains below the ground than has already mined qualifies silver as being relatively rare.
Demand within the technology industry is increasing due to silver’s unique conductive properties. But the age of high-tech and science is shared with an era of environmental awareness, so it’s likely that silver recycling will also rise.
In the not-too-distant future, silver mining will become unviable as lower yields cost more to extract. With a percentage of silver still discarded each year, total available supply will begin to diminish. Unless you anticipate the use of computers, electronics, and smart phones to decline, or silver losing its allure to create beautiful jewellery, then no doubt the silver price will be forced upwards quickly.
Estimates suggest around 1.74 million metric tonnes of silver have been mined up to 2023, but precise figures are challenging due to silver often being a byproduct of mining other metals.
Conflicting figures stem from varied methodologies and the fact that silver is frequently mined incidentally while extracting other metals, making precise tracking challenging.
Factors include technological advancements impacting accessibility, demand for primary metals, and the effectiveness of recycling efforts, all influencing the estimation of remaining silver reserves.
The annual global silver production was 26,000 metric tonnes in 2022. This figure has remained fairly constant over the past decade. But is around 20% than the early 2000’s. Accurate figures are difficult due to silver commonly being found as a by-product of mining primary metals. Mining levels are influenced by economic conditions, technological advancements, and industry demands.
Silver is not considered rare, but its availability depends on various factors. Over 1.4 billion kg of silver has been mined throughout history. However, due to corrosion and various uses, only around 777 million kg of silver remains in metal form. While not rare, careful consideration of recycling and sustainable practices is essential for the long-term availability of this precious metal.
Sustainable silver recycling is crucial for environmental responsibility. Efficient collection systems, advanced refining processes, and consumer participation contribute to a circular approach, extending the lifespan of mined silver and reducing the need for new extractions.
Silver recycling involves collecting used silver items, such as jewellery or electronic components. The collected silver is then subjected to refining processes, often involving melting and purification, to extract pure silver. This recycled silver can be utilized to create new products, contributing to sustainability. However, despite environmental benefits, the global silver recycling rate is around 18%.