WRAP launches WEEE material recovery project

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has today launched a project that will investigate how to stop raw materials from electrical appliances being lost to landfill across Europe.

The Critical Raw Material Closed Loop Recovery (CRM Recovery) project will explore commercial opportunities for harvesting critical raw materials and precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum from unwanted electrical products.

The project is the result of a partnership between project leader WRAP, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), the Wuppertal Institute, the European Recycling Platform UK (ERP UK) and the European Advanced Recycling Network (EARN).

According to the United Nations Global E-waste Monitor, 41.8 million metric tonnes of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) was generated in 2014, a figure that is predicted to increase to 50 million by 2018.

WRAP launches WEEE material recovery projectResearch carried out by WRAP suggests that nearly 40 per cent of electrical products go to landfill when they are disposed of, meaning CRMs ‘crucial to many electrical products’ and in diminishing supply are lost.

The project aims to address this by exploring alternative commercial streams that boost the economy and to find sustainable solutions that reduce reliance on mined raw materials.

Over the next three and a half years, the partners have set a target of increasing recovery of a range of CRMs from products such as consumer electronics, ICT equipment and small household appliances by five per cent.

The materials targeted by the CRM Recovery project include graphite, cobalt, antimony, tantalum, silver, gold and platinum group metals.

Across four countries – the UK, Germany, Italy and Turkey – the project will link collection methods such as kerbside collections and retailer take-back schemes to the efficient recovery of the material components of products.

Each country, says WRAP, represents a different ‘maturity stage’ of recovery development, allowing comparison that will enable a Europe-wide framework to be developed.

Findings from the project will be turned into policy recommendations and proposals covering infrastructure development for the cost-effective recovery of CRMs, which will be presented to the European Commission.

Funding for the €2.1 million (£1.56 million) project will come from the European Commission’s LIFE programme, which supports environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects across Europe. It has contributed around £2.5 billion-worth of funding to projects since 1992. 

Project will ‘inform bigger picture’ of the European closed loop

Announcing the launch of the project, Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO of WRAP, said: “We’re delighted to lead this project which will find effective routes for collecting and recovering valuable materials from electrical and electronic products. I look forward to seeing how these new insights inform the bigger picture, demonstrating the economic and environmental benefits of making better use of resources across Europe.”

Dr Steve Fletcher, Head of Sustainability & Resource Efficiency and Head of Chemistry at KTN, added: “Encouraging sustainable and efficient use of resources is core to KTN’s activities focused on stimulating innovation and economic growth in the UK. Taking part in this project is a further step to enabling businesses to adopt advanced and novel triple bottom line sustainable technologies and services.”

Dr Sven Grieger, Manager of WEEE Operations at EARN, concluded: “CRM Recovery will provide both WEEE take-back organisations and recycling operations best practice methods to improve future value-added by increasing the recovery of certain critical raw materials. EARN is joining the project in order to add our knowledge and long-term experiences in WEEE collection and processing across Europe.”

Learn more about the problems faced by the WEEE sector in Europe.