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Project finds gold and silver going to waste in WEEE

Some 186 tonnes of silver and 24 tonnes of gold could be recovered each yearr from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), an EU project has found.

The Critical Raw Material Recovery project, delivered by a group of organisations led by WRAP, worked with industry and supply chain businesses across the UK, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic.

They collected more than 43 tonnes of WEEE through retailer take-back schemes, reuse containers at household waste recycling centres, business collections and university drop-off hubs.

Trial partners RecyclingBorse, Asekol, Axion Consulting, Re-Tek and Ecodom tested recovery techniques from manual handling and chemical dismantling to electrochemical and hydrometallurgical processes to increase the amount of critical materials recovered.

These included cobalt, antimony, graphite, tantalum, rare earth elements, gold, silver, platinum and copper.

Critical materials are defined as having high economic importance but also high risks with their supply due to scarcity or difficult locations.

The project found that important factors in encouraging the public to recycle WEEE included better information about where to take equipment, convenient disposal points and pro-environmental messaging, and that people were more likely to donate better quality items if they had personal interaction with an operative at the collection point.

Findings showed that 9.9 million tonnes a year of WEEE were generated in the EU, containing 7.7 tonnes of platinum, 24 tonnes of gold and 186 tonnes of silver, and that, by 2030, materials worth €381m (£325m) could be recovered.

WRAP Cymru programme manager Bettina Gilbert said: “It is great to see the culmination of the trials and research undertaken by the project team and its partners, which have resulted in clear, actionable recommendations for policy-makers to improve the recovery of critical raw materials across Europe.”

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