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Precious resources

Most companies are not aware of the true value of certain waste streams. Medical X-rays, printed circuit boards, LED TVs and a host of other ‘waste’ materials contain small amounts of precious metals.

While many of us separate cardboard, glass and tins for recycling, ironically higher value materials tend to be the poorer cousins, being disposed of as hazardous waste because recycling seems too complicated.

Such disposal contracts are usually expensive, and critically result in a significant loss of resources – and value – from within our shores.

A survey by the EEF manufacturers’ body recently found that 80% of respondents said access to raw materials was their biggest concern. And yet we continue to export these treasured reserves for recycling, often paying for the pleasure.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) for example, must be separated prior to disposal: but there are no requirements to recycle the individual materials. Much ends up reclassified as ‘product’ to avoid any further governance and is sent for reprocessing in China, where precious metals are recovered, normally under very poor working conditions, recycled and sold back to us.

Take the case of neodymium, contained in plasma and LED televisions. A finite resource, neodymium mines around the world are swiftly being bought up by China. Yet rather than recycling this material in the UK and returning the neodymium to the market, we are sending it back to China for little return.

Thankfully, the UK government is looking to review WEEE legislation with a view to recycling more. However, this review is unlikely to stem the tide of precious metals, and their significant value, from being exported.

Attempts have been made to resolve the issue from the top down. The government departments for business (BIS), energy (Decc) and the environment (Defra) supported a review of resource depletion and its impacts on UK growth. According to the Financial Times, even the National Security Council held a lengthy discussion on the subject. However, the review has now been shelved, much to the dismay of industry and environmentalists alike.

In Japan, conversely, the government has allocated more than US$500m to address the issue.

So what can be done? If the top down approach to preserving raw materials isn’t working, we need British industry to take the reins.

We have the facilities within our shores to recover the precious metals from even the most complicated or sensitive of waste streams, with the revenue being returned to the customer within seven days. It’s no surprise that this has proven extremely popular among those who have taken up the service.

One British company, for example, had been paying a contractor for direct disposal of its waste. And only 18 months into a contract to recover its precious metals, that company has added a staggering £265,000 to its bottom line. 

Now is the time for an awareness to develop among British industry. We need to end the practice of exporting precious metals; protect our national resources and improve our financial potency. Any organisation with precious metals in its waste has a responsibility to make sure the materials stay in the UK and an opportunity to earn money, from rubbish.

Who are Betts Envirometal?

Betts Envirometal is a British company with 250 years in the business and the experience and know-how to release the value of precious metals back to the customer. The company treats customers on a case by case basis to determine their full service requirements. Through operating an open framework and providing a transparent solution, Betts’ believes it customers can be confident in the security and integrity of their service.

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