An initiative to track the flow of secondary materials in around 18 million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) thrown away in the EU each year could help to secure the supply of rare metals.
The WEEE Forum, an association of EU compliance schemes of which the UK’s Repic is a member, launched the Urban Mine Platform database to locate precious and base metals and critical raw materials in WEEE, end-of-life vehicles, batteries and mining wastes.
It was created by 17 partners in the ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes) project.
ProSUM is supported by the EU Horizon 2020 fund. The publicly available database will be used to improve the management of recycled materials in the EU, Norway and Switzerland.
The European Commission backed the project following fears that the contribution of recycling to meeting the demand for materials is relatively low.
ProSUM said billions of Euros could be saved by increasing the recycling of materials such as platinum and gold instead of mining for them.
“If all of the EEE in stock in households, businesses and public space was shared out between each EU28+2 inhabitant, each person would own close to 44 EEE products plus another 12 (energy saving) lamps and 33 light fittings, which are counted separately.”
The project found that a smartphone contains around 40 critical raw materials, with a concentration of gold 25 to 30 times that of the richest primary gold ores. Other rare earth metals tracked by the database include neodymium, indium and cobalt.
Repic environmental affairs manager and ProSUM project leader Sarah Downes said: “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, now and in the future.
“We hope that this work, coupled with the study we are undertaking with Lancaster University to update UK WEEE flows, will help us in the UK to optimise WEEE recycling, economically and environmentally.”
Pascal Leroy, secretary general of the WEEE Forum, said: “Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first ‘one-stop shop’ knowledge data platform on critical raw materials in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardised, harmonised and verifiable.”