Lead ores are mined at a rate of more than three million tonnes a year with a market value of around US $1 billion and the world market for refined lead stands at about US $15 billion.
While it has a high economic value, lead is relatively economical to produce. As with all metals, there are two main production routes. Primary production from mined lead ore is of course the original source of all lead, but secondary production, where it is recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process is of enormous importance. Secondary lead production now accounts for more than half of all lead produced throughout the world. In the US more than 80% of lead comes from secondary production with Europe reporting over 60%. These impressive figures are made possible by the fact that most lead is used in readily recyclable applications. And unlike many recycled materials, the value of lead means that recycling is economically viable and hence self-sustainable.