Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection infrastructure must be “redesigned and harmonised” to increase the recovery of critical raw materials.
That’s according to an EU- funded Critical Raw Material (CRM) Recovery project, which outlined the findings of a three-year study into the recovery of CRMs at a conference in London yesterday (February 19).
The project looked at the recovery of valuable materials such as silver, gold and platinum which are present in many common electrical items – and represent lost value once the items have ended up as waste. They are described as being ‘economically and strategically important’ for the European economy but have a high-risk associated with their supply.
Recommendations to increase the capture of CRMs from WEEE include awareness campaigns to consumers, introducing incentives for collection and recycling organisations, funding innovation and research and also the introduction of CRM-specific requirements into standards.
Commenting on the study, Carl Nichols, head of WRAP Cymru, which lead the project, said: “For both economic and environmental reasons, we must address the high risk associated with the supply of critical raw materials, which is of growing concern to businesses and governments. This project has provided important insights that will help to achieve this.
“The Layman’s Report provides clear policy and infrastructure recommendations to optimize waste electrical and electronic equipment collections and maximise critical raw material recovery. I am excited about the profound impact their implementation could have on the electronics industry and the wider economy, both here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.”
The £2.1 million project received funding from the LIFE Programme of the European Union, and is supported by Innovate UK, the Welsh Government and Defra, and led by WRAP. Partners include the European Recycling Platform (ERP), the European Advanced Recycling Network, the Wuppertal Institute and the Knowledge Transfer Network.
Industry delegates heard presentations into the details of the report at the London event yesterday.
Peter Sainsbury, economist at WRAP, explained as part of the project, the organisation had looked at the levels of CRMs in products, as well as the current infrastructure for recovery.
“We mapped forward WEEE generation until 2030, which is likely to increase [from 9.8 million to 11.1 million tonnes], focusing in on the small IT which is CRM rich, the total tonnage is going to stay broadly stable,” he explained.
Mr Sainsbury added: “There are around four large scale commercial plants in Europe that extract CRMs on a large scale, located in Belgium, Germany and Sweden. They primarily deal with post-industrial material, not consumer and the capacity is not necessarily there to deal with the tonnage from the consumer.”
With regards to the economics, he said there will be a high cost of infrastructure and “significant” economies of scale would be needed to make it commercially viable, and also that market volatility in the CRM field also adds to the risk.
Also speaking at the event was Norah Lewis, technical specialist at WRAP. Ms Lewis explained that some of the barriers to increased capture of the materials included the “missing focus” of CRM recovery in EU legislation, and that the roles and responsibilities of institutions and other entities “aren’t always clearly defined”.
“Given that smaller items generally contain higher proportions of CRMs, but often represent a lower proportion of the items in the return streams, it is important to separate them at the point of collection,” Ms Lewis commented.
She continued: “Also, we found that engaging with consumers and waste handlers with targeted action and campaigns highlighting the importance of proper disposal of CRM rich WEEE is really important. There are lots of opportunities to influence behaviour change by designing more user-friendly collection points which is almost the first step to engaging and informing citizens.”
The full ‘Layman’s report’ can be found here.
Fuente: LETS RECYCLE