Urban mining for WEEE
By Sarah Downes, External Affairs Manager at REPIC and ProSUM project leader
In January, together with our project partners across Europe, we launched the new Urban Mine Platform (UMP) to help the UK WEEE recycling industry move closer to achieving a circular economy. The new platform hosts the world’s first EU-wide and open-access database of materials present in the urban mine from end of life vehicles (ELVs), spent batteries, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
The concept of ‘urban mining’ has been around for several years but this is the first time that data has been gathered to quantify a specific part of it. Created by 17 partners in the ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes) project, the UMP documents the flows of both precious and base metals, and critical raw materials (CRMs), by products put on the market, in use and stored, and arising as waste at the end of life.
The aim of the ProSUM project is to provide a knowledge base using the best available data in a harmonised and updatable format. The database provides the recycling industry and policymakers with more information concerning the potential to increase the recovery and supply of secondary raw materials.
Recyclers can use the platform to identify trends and patterns in material use in products and estimates for waste arising until 2020. It is hoped that this will be useful information for the recycling industry in understanding when some product types and materials will stop arising in the waste stream and when others will increase.
As well as the data in the UMP, further charts outlining some of these trends are also available in the final project report. For producer compliance schemes like REPIC, the data from the UMP and associated intelligence enables us to understand how the WEEE landscape will change in the future.
Specifically here in the UK, the UMP could help to supply some of the evidence base for Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, and the upcoming Resource and Waste Strategy which aims to stimulate UK markets and achieve greater used of recycled materials in products.
The UMP is a dedicated platform that is populated by a centralised database containing all readily available data on market inputs, stocks (in use and hibernated), composition and waste flows of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), vehicles and batteries for all EU 28 member states, plus Switzerland and Norway.
A number of dynamic charts allow users to access detailed data and market intelligence in three categories: the Urban Mine, Composition and Waste Flows. Users can view the methodologies, calculation steps, data constraints and imitations – which are made explicit. The knowledge base is complemented with an extensive library of more than 800 source documents and databases. This complete transparency means users can review the key information and make a judgement on the data quality of the sources used. The contact details for the researchers who supplied the data are also available, so that more information can be requested if required.
So far, we’ve not encountered any unforeseen problems. However, we have known from the outset that the database would only contain available data; as a result, some products and components have richer and more robust data because there are more published results for them. For products this includes screens, and for components printed circuit boards.
Linked to data availability and some of the current challenges about setting UK compliance targets, I would like to see activity to determine or substantiate the fate of WEEE dealt with outside of the producer compliance system.
REPIC is the second largest member of the WEEE forum, with a shared objective to improve intelligence, operational performance and knowhow, and support the transition to a circular economy. Taking the lead with this project has been a crucial milestone in ‘prospecting’ for the material resources in WEEE and supporting these objectives.
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 independent study currently being undertaken by Lancaster University to improve the modelling of UK WEEE flows, will help us in the UK to improve collection rates and forecasting in order to shape electronic waste recycling policy. This in turn would help to optimise WEEE recycling, economically and environmentally.
To discover more about ProSUM visit the project's website.