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Concentrate on recycling rare metals, says WRAP

A new approach to the recycling of rare earth metals has been urged by WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin.

Dr Goodwin said the UK could reduce its reliance on all raw materials, including rare earths, by as much as 20% by 2020.

WRAP estimates that around 600 million tonnes of products and material enter the UK economy each year, with only around 115 million tonnes being recycled.

“Rare earth metals account for just 1,600 tonnes of this flow, but they are found everywhere - from vehicles, TVs, computers and ceramics, fuels, energy generation, and pharmaceuticals,” Dr Goodwin said.

“We are heavily dependent on these materials for so many everyday items, but recycling rates associated with these resources are generally very low, often below 1%.”

Dr Goodwin was speaking at the Green Alliance/CBI conference ‘Building resilience: resource security and the role of the circular economy’.

She said WRAP had identified some resource efficiency strategies, covering a range of materials including copper, lithium and cobalt as well as rare earths.

“The biggest ‘quick win’ impacts can be attribute to four approaches – lean production, waste reduction, lifetime optimisation and ‘goods to services’, where the number of leased products is increased and the number of outright purchases are decreased.”

Dr Goodwin estimated that by 2020 the UK will have disposed of 12 million tonnes of waste electronic and electrical equipment. A quarter of this WEEE would comprise IT equipment, electronics and devices containing around 63 tonnes of palladium, and 17 tonnes of iridium.

“At current market prices, this amount of palladium would be worth £1bn, and the iridium, around £380m,” she said.

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