Ministers have pledged to hand recyclers a key role in an action plan to protect the UK from a global shortage of precious metals and materials.
The Resource Security Action Plan is designed to shield UK businesses and consumers from the fallout of rising costs of essential raw materials and minerals; constraints on their availability; and price volatility.
Ministers said the plan would also help businesses – including recyclers – cash in on a multibillion pound opportunity.
The plan, launched by Defra and the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, says: “We see this agenda as a business opportunity – we need to make the most of valuable materials.
“By using resources more efficiently, innovating and ‘closing the loop’, we can ensure materials are re-used, re-manufactured or recycled.”
The resource blueprint includes £200,000 of funding for businesses that devise new ways of re-using precious materials; an industry-led consortium to develop resource efforts; and plans to map how precious metals come in and out of the UK.
Environment secretary Caroline Spelman said businesses were under severe pressure from uncertainty in the supply of the speciality metals used in mobile phones, medical equipment and aeroplanes.
She added: “We’re working with business to help prepare for these risks – but there is also a multi-billion pound opportunity in the massive amount of valuable metals lost because of how we deal now with products people no longer want.
“I want to see British businesses taking advantage of this golden opportunity to boost growth and jobs through how we design products, while re-using, recycling or substituting valuable metals.”
Business groups said the plan represented a good “first step” but warned the UK was lagging behind “competitors in Germany, the US, Japan and China” (see below).
The plan includes:
- A £200,000 challenge fund for local businesses to come up with new ways of re-using or recycling precious materials.
- An industry-led consortium to spearhead business efforts to build up a comprehensive picture of the risks and growth opportunities that UK business can take advantage of in a global market.
- Proposals to map out where and how precious metals come in and out of the UK in electrical and electronic equipment to unlock the hidden value in our gadgets. This will enable business to innovate and create jobs by capturing those materials.
- Looking at the best way to make sure producers of electrical goods can stop the precious metals they use going to waste.
- Development of a website to provide businesses with information on the current and future availability of precious resources that they need and to help them identify risks, opportunities and plan for any potential supply problems.
- Between now and 2020 the UK will dispose of 12m tonnes of electronic equipment – a quarter of which will be IT equipment, consumer electronics and display devices which contain 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 about £380m.
- Almost a quarter of all used or broken electrical and electronic products taken to household recycling centres could easily be fixed and resold, which represents a gross revenue opportunity of £200m each year.
- WRAP and the Environment Agency’s European Pathways to Zero Waste report assessed potential global recovery opportunities of the EU’s 14 most critical metals and minerals at around US$15bn.
Business lobyists the Aldersgate Group and manufacturers’ organisation EEF were both consulted by ministers on the plans.
An EEF spokeswoman said: “Defra’s action plan is a step in the right direction but the Government must now build on this and take a broader view on resources.
“We cannot afford to sit back while our competitors in Germany, the US, Japan and China are ahead of us in responding to this issue. We need a resource strategy which helps to ensure resource security and quality, and creates incentives for resource efficiency.”
Aldersgate Group chairman Peter Young added: “The era of plentiful and cheaper resources is over.
“The Government’s action plan is a welcome first step to ensure that growth isn’t damaged by potential supply uncertainty and the UK gains competitive advantage from increased resilience.
“The Government’s strategy must pave the way for greater dialogue with industry to kick start a resource revolution that will drive innovation, commercial opportunities and job creation.”