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Reuse is the key to conserving rare raw materials


Rare materials found in WEEE are best conserved through reuse, according to WRAP research.

Speaking at a Green Alliance/CBI conference, WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said that by pursuing opportunities for reuse, the UK could reduce its reliance on raw materials such as rare earth metals by up to 20 per cent by 2020.

WRAP estimates that around 600 million tonnes of products and material enters the UK market each year with only 115 million tonnes being recycled.

Goodwin added: “Rare earth metals account for just 1,600 tonnes of this flow, but they are found everywhere – from vehicles, TV’s, computers and ceramics, fuels, energy generation and pharmaceuticals.

“We are heavily dependent on these materials for so many everyday items, but recycling rates associated with these resources are generally very low – often below 1 per cent.”

As a result, WRAP has identified some quick win strategies that cover everything from copper, lithium and cobalt to rare earth metals.

Goodwin added: “Our research shows that in general, it’s the strategies that extend the life of goods or reduce the consumption of electronic and electrical goods that have the greatest impact. The biggest quick win impacts can be attributed to four approaches. [These are] lean production, waste reduction, lifetime optimisation and goods to services, where the number of leased products is increased and the number of outright purchases are decreased.”

WRAP estimates that between now and 2020, people and businesses in the UK will dispose of 12 million tonnes of WEEE. A quarter of this will be IT equipment, consumer electronics and display devices, which in turn will contain around 63 tonnes of palladium and 17 tonnes of iridium.

At current, prices, this amount of palladium would be worth £1 billion and the iridium around £380 million.