EU ‘urban mining’ data platform launched to track critical raw materials

A team of 17 European organisations has launched the world’s first multinational database tracking the flow of precious metals and critical raw materials (CRMs) found in scrap vehicles, old batteries and WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment).

The Urban Mine Platform, the result of the ProSUM project (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Waste), consolidates 800 source documents and databases from all 28 EU member states to create a “state of the art knowledge base” capable of tracking the quantity of precious metals and CRMs in products available and those entering the waste stream - revealing an urban mine worth billions.

EU ‘urban mining’ data platform launched to track critical raw materialsThe EU, Norway and Switzerland created some 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in 2016 - around 23 per cent of the world’s total. A report by the partnership calculates that if the EEE in stock in households, businesses, and public space was divided out between every person in the 28 EU states, each person would own 44 EEE products, 0.5 vehicles per person, and 40 batteries.

But WEEE recycling is complicated and difficult to process. Only around 30 per cent is recycled and 40 per cent ends up in landfill. Capturing this material is made all the more important by the dwindling natural supply of CRMs and REEs (rare earth elements) and the devastating effect their mining can have on the environment.

Pascal Leroy, Secretary General of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit association and ProSUM project coordinator celebrated the launch: "Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world's first 'one stop shop' knowledge data platform on CRMs in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable."

The information charts will show data on the number and type of products on the market, in stock (in use and hibernating), and generated as waste; the composition of key components materials and elements, such as aluminium, copper, gold or neodymium, in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment, and vehicles; and waste flows showing the amount collected and estimates for small batteries and EEE in unsorted municipal waste.

The aggregated data will be a boost of confidence to recycling industry investors and give policymakers better intelligence on the supplies of raw materials by showing the stocks and flows of products containing high amounts of specific materials.

Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, and ProSUM Scientific Coordinator, states: "Until now, data on such critical raw materials have been produced by a variety of institutions, including government agencies, universities, NGOs, and industry, with the information scattered across various databases in different formats and difficult to compare or aggregate and often representing an outdated snapshot for a certain year only.  The ProSUM effort helps remedy that problem, and enables the identification of so-called "hotspots" – the largest stocks of specific materials."

The data also allows quantities to be mapped over time, showing the trends in materials in the urban mine which can change rapidly. The platform, for example, shows plastics and aluminium content are increasing, copper and gold are stabilising,and printed circuit board tonnages are in decline. It is hoped the improved intelligence will lead to higher recycling rates and recovery of WEEE.

Sarah Downes, Environmental Affairs Manager of WEEE compliance scheme REPIC, is ProSUM’s project leader and said: “We initiated this project because there has been a real dearth of data and intelligence to properly assess the material recovery potential of the complex products which make up WEEE. This work is a significant step forward in understanding the potential for recycling, now and in the future.We hope that this work coupled with the study we are undertaking with Lancaster University to update UK WEEE flows will help us in the UK to optimise WEEE recycling, economically and environmentally.”

More information about the Urban Mine Platform can be found on the tool’s website

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