The Need To Recycling Critical Metals in E-waste
Led by the World Resources Forum, consortium designates recycling, reuse of key elements in four electronic, electrical product categories as 'critical'
End-of-life circuit boards, certain magnets in disc drives and electric vehicles, EV and other special battery types, and fluorescent lamps are among several electrical and electronic products containing critical raw materials (CRMs), the recycling of which should be made mandatory by law, says a new UN-backed report funded by the EU.
A mandatory, legal requirement to recycle and reuse CRMs in select e-waste categories is needed to safeguard from supply disruptions elements essential to manufacturers of important electrical and electronic and other products, says a European consortium behind the report, led by the Switzerland-based World Resources Forum.
The CEWASTE consortium warns that access to the CRMs in these products is vulnerable to geo-political tides. Recycling and reusing them is "crucial" to secure ongoing supplies for regional manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) essential for defence, renewable energy generation, LEDs and other green technologies.
Today, recycling most of the products rich in CRMs is not commercially viable.
The report (available at cewaste.eu) identifies gaps in standards and proposes an improved, fully tested certification scheme to collect, transport, process and recycle this waste, including tools to audit compliance.
The project says the following equipment categories contain CRMs in concentrations high enough to facilitate recycling:
- Printed circuit boards from IT equipment, hard disc drives and optical disc drives
- Batteries from WEEE and end of life vehicles
- Neodymium iron boron magnets from hard disc drives, and electrical engines of e-bikes, scooters and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs)
- Fluorescent powders from cathode ray tubes (CRTs; in TVs and monitors) and fluorescent lamps
Recovery technologies and processes are well established for some CRMs, such as palladium from printed circuit boards or cobalt from lithium-ion batteries. For other CRMs, ongoing recycling technology development will soon make industrial scale operations possible but needs financial support and sufficient volumes to achieve cost-efficient operations. The overall scheme was tested at European firms in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, as well as in Colombia, Rwanda and Turkey.
"Greater CRM recycling is a society-wide responsibility and challenge," says the consortium whose recommendations include:
- Legislate a requirement to recycle specific critical raw materials in e-waste
- Use market incentives to spur the economic viability of recovering CRMs and to stimulate the use of recovered CRMs in new products
- Create platforms where demand for recycled components, materials and CRMs can meet supply
- Raise awareness of the importance of CRM recycling
- Consolidate fractions of CRM-rich products into quantities more attractive for recyclers
- Improve access to information on CRM-rich components and monitor actual recycling
- Enforce rules around shipment of CRM-rich fractions outside the EU and respect of technical standards along the value chain
- Integrate CEWASTE norms and requirements into the European standard for e-waste treatment (EN 50625 series) and make the whole set legally binding
- Support more targeted private investments in new technology research and development.