Lucy Cooper, Technical Project Manager at the Critical Raw Material Recovery Project, explains how it is working to recover valuable materials from WEEE
In October last year, the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) announced it would be launching a new EU-LIFE funded project, alongside the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Wuppertal Institute, European Recycling Platform (ERP) UK Ltd and the European Advanced Recycling Network (EARN). The Critical Raw Material Recovery Project is working to explore commercial opportunities for harvesting critical raw materials and precious metals including gold, silver and platinum group metals, from everyday unwanted electronic projects. Ultimately, it will ensure that more of these materials are recovered during the recycling process, and will find the most effective ways to do this.
Critical raw materials (CRMs) are crucial to many electrical projects, yet currently our research shows that nearly 40 per cent of electrical products are sent to landfill when they’re disposed of. In fact, each year, just under 10 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is generated in the EU alone, which is a colossal amount. Keeping these products out of landfill is important as they contain valuable, precious and critical materials that have the potential to be recovered and reused in new products.
Many of the materials classed as critical by the European Commission are those materials whose availability can disrupt the supply chain, or where the extraction of virgin material has a significantly high impact. The fact that such a large quantity of these materials is being discarded in landfill within WEEE products represents a real lost opportunity, both economically and environmentally.
Going forward, for the Critical Raw Materials Recovery Project we have chosen to work with four different countries to reflect the range of systems operating across Europe. Countries with mature WEEE recovery are able to test the potential to increase recovery, whereas countries with less mature collection systems will have the potential to make significant impact through implementation of new collection and reprocessing activity.
By testing collection and recovery in a range of countries, we’ll be able to better understand the most effective routes for collection systems required across Europe to deliver significant change.
The project is due to run over three and a half years, and the overall aim is to demonstrate viable approaches to increase the recovery of target critical raw materials by five per cent within the project lifetime. These can be from products such as consumer electronics, ICT equipment and small household appliances.
Yet there are also a number of other objectives that the project will aim to demonstrate. For example, it hopes to show the environmental, economic and social benefits that an innovative circular economy for critical raw materials could deliver. Or how innovation in collection, reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery of WEEE could increase recovery. And it will also use the learnings as key inputs to a European infrastructure plan for collection and recovery of products, parts, components and critical raw materials from WEEE.