Clean technologies under threat from low metals reuse

Recycling rates of rare metals are far lower than their potential for reuse despite them being crucial to the development of clean technologies, a new report has found.

Less than one-third of some crucial 60 metals studied by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50% and 34 of them have a recycling rate of below 1%.

This effectively threatens the cost of producing products such batteries for hybrid vehicles or magnets for wind turbines as raw materials become more scarce.

The Recycling rates of metals: a status report states that in spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low, and a ‘recycling society’ appears no more than a distant hope.

“The weak performance is especially frustrating because, unlike some other resources, metals are inherently recyclable,” the study points out.

Recycling metals is estimated to be up to 10 times more energy efficient than smelting them from virgin ores. Meanwhile extraction alone currently accounts for 7% of the world’s energy consumption.

Maxine Perella

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