A team of scientists analysed samples from four different UK landfill sites, finding metals which could be worth a total of £360m.

Between the four sites, there was estimated to be £260m of copper and aluminium, £92m of palladium (used in cars’ catalytic converters), and £5m of Neodymium, which can be used to create super-powerful magnets.

Dr Stuart Wagland, who worked on the project, said: “There is clearly potential value in our landfills, considering we only looked at the soil-like materials within the landfill sites.

“It is unlikely that the recovery of only rare earth elements and critical metals would be economically viable, however recover copper and aluminium and it starts to make sense.

“Further resource recovery is possible with the extraction of larger metal items and the reprocessing of plastics, adding even more value to the operation.

Wagland added that landfill mining had benefits beyond resource recovery though, as the land can be reclaimed, removing the long-term management issues of landfill sites.

Untapped potential

The UK has around 4,000 landfill sites, potentially containing up to £360bn of unharvested valuable metals. 

Significant quantities of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) were disposed in landfill, especially prior to the implementation of the 2002 European Union WEEE Directive.

The Government has shown in the recent past that it is committed to extracting valuable resources from waste. In March it allocated £600,000 funding to help develop Britain’s first ‘plasma facility’ which will recover gold, silver and platinum from electronic waste.

In related news, the EU yesterday launched a public consultation to help inform its upcoming circular economy action plan, to be presented by the end of 2015.

Any ideas generated by the consultation will feed into a new strategy which aims to transform Europe into a “competitive resource-efficient economy”.

Brad Allen

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie