Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of MRW, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

A database of resources

There are, on average, 44 pieces of elec­trical and electronic equipment (EEE), per person across Europe. There are also a dozen energy-saving lamps, 33 light fittings, 40 batteries and half a car.

These calculations are based on usage in homes, open spaces and businesses and come from a research project called Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes, or ProSum, which aims to pull together for the first time all the publicly held data on primary and secondary materials.

There is money to be made from the 18 million tonnes of EEE and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) discarded annually across Europe. The average smartphone contains dozens of different critical raw materials, including precious metals such as gold, which currently goes for several thousand pounds per ounce, alongside aluminium, copper, cobalt and silver (aluminium, copper, cobalt and silver.

ELVs in Europe are a large source of ELVs in Europe are a large source of secondary base metals, said to total 213 million tonnes of steel, 24 million tonnes of aluminium and 7.3 million tonnes of copper, as well as platinum and palladium. With the growing sales of electric cars, there will be an increase in neodymium, lithium and cobalt.

As MRW reported in December, trials into how such materials could be mined are underway. Tetronics and Innovate UK successfully retrieved pre­cious metals from printed circuitboards by using a plasma furnace to successfully retrieved pre­cious metals from printed circuitboards by using a plasma furnace to separate out the materials, with positive results achieved and more trials planned.

Value of secondary materials found in WEEE, ELVs and batteries

Cobalt: £58,538 per tonne

Copper: £4,879 per tonne

Zinc: £2,503 per tonne

Aluminium: £1,546 per tonne

Gold: £960.83 per oz

Palladium: £715.68 per oz

Platinum: £698.38 per oz

Silver: £11.94 per oz

PRICES AT 14 FEBRUARY

It is hoped that the ProSum database will reduce the UK’s reliance on other countries for materials, if we can recover them here and not have to risk the potential price hikes experienced on a volatile market when affected by geopolitical issues in the countries of origin.

Sarah Downes, environmental affairs manager at WEEE producer compli­ance scheme Repic, is project leader for ProSum: “We initiated this project because there has been a dearth of data and intelligence to properly assess the material recovery potential of the com­plex products which make up WEEE.

“This work is a significant step for­ward in understanding the potential for recycling. We hope that this work, cou­pled with a study we are undertaking with Lancaster University to update UK WEEE flows, will help us to optimise [domestic] WEEE recycling.” 

ProSum, which supports the Euro­pean Commission’s circular economy action plan, was funded through the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme; it started in January 2015 and ended in December 2017.

Its information was gathered from many different and unstructured sources, produced for a variety of objec­tives, used different techniques and was stored in various formats. So a new classification system was developed to provide a harmonised data structure. Downes said that developing such a system was a big part of the project, “to ensure we’re not comparing apples with pears”.

Part of the ProSum project was devel­oping the Urban Mine Platform (UMP), where data on primary and secondary resources can be viewed and accessed. This web portal contains a database for mar­ket inputs, stocks which are in use or currently hibernated, compositions and waste flows of all the products, as well as a library containing several hundred sources of the data. or currently hibernated, compositions and waste flows of all the products, as well as a library containing or currently hibernated, compositions and waste flows of all the products, as well as a library containing several hundred sources of the data. of all the products, as well as a library containing several hundred sources of the data.

One of the challenges to creating a database containing this information has been companies not wanting to share their commercially sensitive data. To get around this barrier, non-disclosure agreements were agreed between the data provider and a few limited key researchers, who have worked with the data and aggregated it in ways to protect the original source.

Although the database provides no technical or economic assessment of whether materials can be recovered, it does give information to allow for future exploitation of the most abundant loca­tions of secondary raw materials.

ProSum continues to develop the urban mining concept, with research on understanding future user needs and to develop new services, with the aim of funding maintenance, reducing data gaps and expanding the UMP to other waste streams.

The latest Global E-Waste Monitor estimates the global tonnage of WEEE, excluding ELV, was 44.7 million tonnes. The value of the high-value materials that contains is £48bn. If the ProSum objectives are achieved, it will open up a lucrative market.

The 44 products are made up of

  • 1.1 cooling devices such as fridges, freezers and air conditioners
  • 3.2 screens, including TVs, monitors, laptops and tablets
  • 3.8 large household appliances, like washing machines, dryers, hoods, large heaters
  • 27 small appliances including kitchen equipment, personal care, tools and toys
  • 9.3 small IT items such as printers, mobile phones, keyboards and phones

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.