Salvage scarce raw materials

12 January 2012

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12 January 2012 | Helen Gilbert

Materials in scant supply could be salvaged if the UK government adopts a more ambitious approach to waste management, a manufacturers group has argued.

Defra’s Waste Policy Review – Six Months On, by manufacturers’ organisation the EEF, argued that the shortage of materials is now the biggest threat to manufacturers. It called on the government to develop a resource strategy that will enable materials, particularly those that are limited, to be re-used.

In 2010, 14 raw materials including cobalt, fluorspar, and niobium were listed as being in ‘critical’ supply. This is because worldwide production is concentrated in a few countries; the materials are not easily substituted with alternatives; there is a lack of recycling; and demand is expected to increase as a result of technological change.

The report slammed current waste legislation as “unnecessarily complex”, “confusing” and “out of date” and pointed out that while it is assumed most manufacturing waste goes to landfill less than a quarter of it is actually disposed of in this way.

The EEF study claimed a resource strategy would enable scarce materials to be re-used and would speed up their movement across the economy. Such a strategy would also make it easier for companies to make the most of the waste they and others produce and reduce dependence on imports.  

The call was backed by an EEF survey of senior manufacturing leaders showing 80 per cent now regard a shortage of raw materials as a risk to their business.

EEF head of climate and environment, Gareth Stace, said: “Waste policy has for some time been the forgotten element of the green agenda. But, with global demand for resources expected to soar in the future and manufacturers already rating raw material shortages as their biggest risk, we must not miss the opportunity to make the best of what we have.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesperson said: “We will shortly publish a ‘Resource Security Action Plan’ to help businesses understand and overcome the risks of getting the raw materials they need to make their products. Businesses rely on these and we want to help them plan for the future and grow a sustainable economy.”

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