WEEE ‘short-sightedness’ hampering rare metals recovery

WRAP has called for an urgent upgrade of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) infrastructure to enable the recovery of valuable raw materials that are being lost in the recycling process.

Speaking at Sustainabilitylive! this week (23 May 23), WRAP chief executive Dr Liz Goodwin told delegates that the organisation would publish more information about scaling up current infrastructure over the coming months and would also identify material flows and the results of technology demonstration trials.

Most WEEE recycling is carried out by shredding electronic and electrical goods. While this method enables recyclers to capture valuable bulk metals and plastics, Goodwin pointed out that a number of important raw materials were not being recovered.

These include small amounts of rare earths and other valuable elements such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium which either end up in landfill or incineration, or are exported.

Shredding is a cheap option and there is also a strong overseas demand for these materials, but Goodwin argued that, long-term, the UK is losing out on a hugely valuable commodity as the exported materials can be worth thousands of pounds per tonne.

Part of the problem is that the UK does not have the right infrastructure in place or sufficient investment to enable the recovery of these valuable materials.

WRAP has been working with a number of WEEE reprocessors to test the commercial viability of recovering these materials. The technology demonstration trials show that not only is recovery technologically feasible, but it is also financially viable.

“The need for this approach becomes even more timely if you consider that the recent recast of the EU WEEE Directive now sets higher collection targets – this means that WEEE items are likely to be coming through the system,” Goodwin said.

“It might also start to improve the economics by increasing the amount of WEEE available for re-use and/or recovery of critical materials.”

According to WRAP, WEEE recyclers should look to recover and supply these valuable materials because prices are expected to rise in the future due to concerns about future supply security.

Nick Warburton

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