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Precious metal potential wasted, says industry boss

The waste management sector should do more to unlock to the value of precious metals in waste, according to recovery specialist Betts Envirometal.

Precious metals and other valuable metals including, gold, silver, copper and palladium can be found in electronic items such as mobile phones, computers, and LCD screens.

WRAP estimates that by 2020, more than 12 million tonnes of electronic waste will be created in the UK, which will contain around £7bn worth of precious metals.

But the sector is missing out on the potential value in recovery of such metals, Betts general manager Simon Hundal told MRW.

“The waste management companies don’t target it,” he said. “They are all focused on glass, paper, card board, plastics, and are not identifying it as a waste stream. The innovations at the moment are seen as things like anaerobic digestion.”

Hundal said that giving more attention to precious metal as a waste stream and potential value stream would benefit the UK economy and reduce the amount of WEEE waste going abroad.

“Contracts should refer to precious metals to encourage bidders to do something about it,” he said.

WEEE collection initiatives

In January, the Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority (MRWA) launched a scheme to divert precious metals from landfill. After finding small WEEE in residual waste, Veolia Environmental Services is running a scheme with the authority to provide free heavy duty recycling bags to encourage householders to bring WEEE to HWRCs.  

Waste management firm Biffa includes WEEE collections in its segregated kerbside collections, as well as collecting via HWRCs.

David Meehan, general manager of compliance at Biffa, said: “All WEEE collected is sent to a number of UK based accredited Approved Authorised Treatment Facilities for reprocessing where the WEEE is processed and separated, typically into various grades of Ferrous metals, Non-Ferrous metals and Plastics.”

Additional income stream

LARAC says that more local authorities were looking at whether precious metal recovery is becoming an option, as metal prices continue to rise.

“There’s a lot of interest, the hope is that the economics will make it make sense but it will certainly have to be at no cost to the authority, and preferably generate an income stream,” said LARAC recycling policy and commissioning manager Andrew Bird.

WRAP is carrying out three trials looking at the cost/benefit of raw material recovery from WEEE, and component segregation. Results are expected in the late summer.

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