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Recycling Critical Metals in E-Waste: Make it the Law, Experts Warn EU, Citing Raw Material Security Issues

Led by the World Resources Forum, consortium designates recycling. Reuse of key elements in four electronic / electrical product categories as “critical”.

End-of-life circuit boards, certain magnets in disc drives and electric vehicles, EV and other special battery types, and fluorescent lamps are among several electrical and electronic products containing critical raw materials (CRMs), the recycling of which should be made law, says a new UN-backed report funded by the EU.

A mandatory, legal requirement to recycle and reuse CRMs in select e-waste categories is needed to safeguard from supply disruptions elements essential to manufacturers of important electrical and electronic and other products, says a European consortium behind the report, led by the Switzerland-based World Resources Forum.

The CEWASTE consortium warns that access to the CRMs in these products is vulnerable to geo-political tides. Recycling and reusing them is “crucial” to secure ongoing supplies for regional manufacturing of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) essential for defence, renewable energy generation, LEDs and other green technologies, and to the competitiveness of European firms.

Today, recycling most of the products rich in CRMs is not commercially viable, with low and volatile CRM prices undermining efforts to improve European CRM recycling rates, which today are close to zero in most cases. 

The report identifies gaps in standards and proposes an improved, fully tested certification scheme to collect, transport, process and recycle this waste, including tools to audit compliance.

“A European Union legal framework and certification scheme, coupled with broad financial measures will foster the investments needed to make recycling critical raw materials more commercially viable and Europe less reliant on outside supply sources,” says the consortium.

“Acceptance by the manufacturing and recycling industry is also needed, as the standards will only work when there is widespread adoption.”

The report follows the 2020 EU action plan to make Europe less dependent on third countries for CRMs by, for example, diversifying supply from both primary and secondary sources while improving resource efficiency and circularity.

Adds the consortium: “By adopting this report’s recommendations, the EU can be more self-sustaining,  help drive the world’s green agenda and create new business opportunities at home.”

The project says the following equipment categories contain CRMs in concentrations high enough to facilitate recycling:

  • Printed circuit boards from IT equipment, hard disc drives and optical disc drives
  • Batteries from WEEE and end of life vehicles
  • Neodymium iron boron magnets from hard disc drives, and electrical engines of e-bikes, scooters and end-of-life vehicles (ELVs)
  • Fluorescent powders from cathode ray tubes (CRTs; in TVs and monitors) and fluorescent lamps

Recovery technologies and processes are well established for some CRMs, such as palladium from printed circuit boards or cobalt from lithium-ion batteries.

For other CRMs, ongoing recycling technology development will soon make industrial scale operations possible but needs financial support and sufficient volumes to achieve cost-efficient operations. 

Of 60+ requirements in European e-waste-related legislation and standards, few address the collection of CRMs in the key product categories, the consortium found. 

They propose several additional technical, managerial, environmental, social and traceability requirements for facilities that collect, transport, and treat waste, for integration into established standards, such as the EU 50625-series.

The overall scheme was tested at European firms in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland,  as well as in Colombia, Rwanda and Turkey.  

“Greater CRM recycling is a society-wide responsibility and challenge,” says the consortium. “The relevant authorities must improve the economic framework conditions to make it economically viable.” 

CEWASTE project recommendations include:

  • Legislate a requirement to recycle specific critical raw materials in e-waste
  • Use market incentives to spur the economic viability of recovering CRMs and to stimulate the use of recovered CRMs in new products
  • Create platforms where demand for recycled components, materials and CRMs can meet supply
  • Raise awareness of the importance of CRM recycling
  • Consolidate fractions of CRM-rich products into quantities more attractive for recyclers
  • Improve access to information on CRM-rich components and monitor actual recycling
  • Enforce rules around shipment of CRM-rich fractions outside the EU and respect of technical standards along the value chain
  • Integrate CEWASTE normative requirements into the European standard for e-waste treatment (EN 50625 series) and make the whole set legally binding 
  • Support more targeted private investments in new technology research and development

Read more in the Final Public Report

 

q&a

CEWASTE Final Event: 40 questions answered by our experts

On 24th March the CEWASTE project held a hugely successful final event at which over 200 stakeholders learned about the work and results of the project and discussed the future of critical raw material (CRM) recycling. During the webinar several questions were raised by the audience, but due to the time constraints not all of them could have been directly answered:

  • Will CEWASTE requirements be included in EN50625 standard series?
  • Can this verification be applied in non-European countries?
  • Why is it called a voluntary certification scheme, if it is so important?

...just to list a few. If you are interested in learning more, please have a look on the full list of Questions and Answers by clicking here.

If you missed the event, watch the full recording here and view the slides here.

 

final event

CEWASTE final event a huge success!

On the 24th March the CEWASTE project held a hugely successful final event at which over 200 stakeholders learned about the work and results of the project and discussed the future of critical raw material (CRM) recycling. 

If you missed the event, watch the full recording here and view the slides here.

In the first part of the event project partners walked the audience through the work undertaken during the last 2.5 years.

Shahrzad Manoochehri from World Resources Forum explained the background to the project and current situation with CRM recycling. Otmar Deubzer from United Nations University presented the list of key equipment containing CRMs that were selected for drafting of the voluntary certification scheme, which was then explained in detail by Sonia Valdivia (World Resources Forum).  Yifaat Baron (Oeko-Institut) showed the audience the tools created to control conformity with the requirements. 

The second part of the event focused on the future of the CRMs recycling. Firstly, Federico Magalini of Sofies explained how the project views the future potential of the certification scheme once the CEWASTE project ends. Secondly, the panel discussion, moderated by Pascal Leroy of the WEEE Forum focused on key questions around what needs to happen to improve CRM recycling. The panel composed of Christian Dworak (CENELEC TC111x Environment), Christian Hagelueken (UMICORE), Mattia Pellegrini (DG Environment, European Commission), Norbert Zonneveld (EERA) and Fanny Rateau (ECOS) addressed the following questions, amongst others: 

  • What progress has been made in CRM recycling in the last 10 years?
  • What incentives need to be in place for companies to invest in new technologies for CRM recycling? 
  • Should standards become legally binding?
  • What the European Commission can do to make the things really happen?

In response to that last question, Mattia Pellegrini indicated that, at the moment, there is not enough recycled material available in Europe, so the focus should be on fostering recycling capacity and collection of WEEE. Mandatory recycled content and Member States' green procurement will be considered in the revision of WEEE legislation. The consortium looks forward to engaging further with the executive agency that manages the Horizon 2020 calls and with the policymakers in European Commission.

In addition, several questions, ideas and concerns were raised by delegates during the webinar. The consortium will work on aggregating and answering all the questions that remained unanswered and once completed will post these on the website, as well as in a special edition of the project newsletter.

If you are interested in the CEWASTE work and wish to receive the Final Report and other project related updates, you can register to CEWASTE stakeholder network

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Register to CEWASTE final event!

The CEWASTE Final Event takes place online on 24th March between 09.30 and 12.00 CET.

Join us to hear more about the results of the project and how the new certification scheme will impact the e-waste recycling sector. The event will also provide time for discussing the post-project life of the scheme and we will present a lively panel discussion inviting participation from the audience.

In the first session, after a short introduction by Marcin Sadowski of the European Commission, we will show the current situation around Critical Raw Materials and Circular Economy, how CEWASTE created the voluntary certification scheme and what the scheme contains. After the break, we will present the CEWASTE roadmap and what is needed for the sustainability of the scheme. This will be followed by an interactive panel discussion that will debate how an actual progress can be made in the recycling of CRMs and what role the CEWASTE scheme can play in this.

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Project funding

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 820859.

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