High tech metals are not sufficiently recycled says UN

Brussels, 17 May 2010 – Two new reports released by the UN commission on sustainable development finds that recycling rates for specialty metals are worryingly low. Only 1% of these metals are recycled in electronic products compared with 50% for more common metals such as steel.

The reports chart the growth in the use of specialty metals such as cesium, indium and lithium for new high-tech equipment. A total of 62, ferrous, non-ferrous and specialty metals’ lifecycles were studied. Results indicated increasing pressure on many metals especially those used in high tech devices. Demand for indium, used in semiconductors, is expected to almost double to 2,600 tonnes by 2020. Iron and copper are exceptions, with recycling rates above 25%.

The reports are the first of six metal stock reports being prepared by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource management, convened by UNEP in 2007. The panel says recycling metals is between two and ten times more energy efficient than smelting the metals from virgin ores. Secondary reclaimed steel causes 75% less emissions. Furthermore efficiency measures and recycling could keep prices down.

The European Commission is also focusing attention on the issue. In June, an EU expert group will submit a report on the supply of specialty metals, which the commission considers as “critical materials”. Notably, they are crucial in certain key green technologies, including solar pales which require both tellurium and selenium.

The reports can be found here: Metal Stocks in Society and Metals Recycling Rates

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