UK 'missing out on £13m of critical raw materials'

8 July 2021

Up to £13.64m worth of critical raw materials may be lost in the UK every year due to a lack of advanced recycling technologies to recover them from waste.

A report by not-for-profit Material Focus said 379,000kg of critical raw materials are found in waste electrical components and circuit boards.

The highest yields would come from gold, silver and palladium while other metals, such as tin, antimony and yttrium, which command lower but still significant commodity prices, could also contribute to the benefits.

But while some of the raw materials are extracted through recycling processes, many are lost or have to be shipped abroad for extraction, leading to the UK missing out on potential economic benefits.

The report said increasing the amount of recycling and investing in electrical waste processing infrastructure could allow more of these valuable materials to be recovered.

Electrical waste processing infrastructure could help recover valuable raw materials from IT equipment such as desktop PCs, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, screens, monitors, and lighting, said the report.

Countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Turkey, South Africa and Romania are already investing in this technology.

Currently less than 1% of all rare earth elements in electricals are being recycled.

Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, said: “This research highlights that critical raw materials don’t need to be lost and for the first time shows the investment opportunities in building a circular economy for critical raw materials in the UK.

“If the UK recycled more lost waste electricals and invested in new waste electricals processing infrastructure we could capture more of these valuable materials.”

The research said a potential 82.5kg of platinum could be recovered, which could help produce 11,785 new catalytic converters, while a potential 1,560kgs of recovered gold could help make 487,500 new wedding rings. A potential 3,300kg of neodymium could help build 2,661 new wind turbines.

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