UK waste-reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is launching a first-of-its-kind project to explore commercial opportunities for harvesting critical raw materials (CRMs) and precious metals from everyday end-of-life electronic products. The EU LIFE-funded project, Critical Raw Material Closed Loop Recovery (CRM Recovery), will link collection methods with recovery success.
Globally, an estimated 41.8 million tonnes of e-waste was generated in 2014, and it was forecasted to increase to 50 million tonnes of e-waste in 2018. WRAP research has shown that nearly 40 percent of electrical products are disposed of in landfills.
The CRM Recovery project will investigate commercial streams and solutions to reduce waste and the need for mining raw materials. It will result in policy recommendations and proposals for infrastructure development for the cost-effective recovery of these materials to the European Commission. Researchers will also present the environmental and economic benefits of keeping materials in circulation longer, and consider the impacts of incentivized and non-incentivized activities.
To carry out this three-and-a-half year project, WRAP is partnering with the Knowledge Transfer Network, battery recycler ERP UK Ltd, and the EARN European Advanced Recycling Network. They aim to increase the recovery of a range of raw materials by 5 percent from products such as consumer electronics, information and communications technology (ICT) equipment and small household appliances. Target CRMs include graphite, cobalt, antimony, tantalum, rare earths, silver, gold, and platinum group metals.
"We are pleased to be working on this project, as recovering critical raw materials is important for many modern technologies requiring specific metals. Recovering these materials enables the closure of material loops and provides greater opportunities for continuous innovation,” said Dr Henning Wilts, Coordinator of the research program Waste and Resource Efficiency at the Wuppertal Institute.
The project will link collection methods — including curbside collections, bookable collections, retailer take-back schemes, collection events, business collections and postal returns — to how the material components of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) can be efficiently dismantled, recovered and returned to market.
“CRM Recovery will provide both WEEE take-back organisations and recycling operations best practice methods to improve future value-added by increasing the recovery of certain critical raw materials,” said Dr. Sven Grieger, Manager WEEE Operations at EARN.
The project will extend across Europe. Four countries - the UK, Germany, Italy, and Turkey — will participate; each represents a different stage of raw materials recovery development, which will allow for cross-comparison and the creation of a European-wide framework. This could be the start of a European circular economy for electronics — the economic model WRAP recently predicted could create over 200,000 jobs in the UK (13,000 in Northern Ireland alone) in the next 15 years.