Increasing the recycling of precious and minor metals

Board of a processor, on it a recycling symbolClick to enlarge
Optimising waste management logistics makes recycling of precious and minor metals more profitable.
Source: serkat Photography /

To increase recycling of precious and minor metals, a German Environment Agency study concludes that dismantling and recycling obligations plus information obligations for WEEE and motors with neodymium magnets and end-of-life vehicle electronics may be appropriate. It also recommends consolidation workshops and adjustments to legislation regarding the long-term interim storage of minor metals.

Precious and minor metals are playing an increasingly important role in the functionality of modern products and in future and environmental technologies. Their supply is often unstable, mining and extraction may cause a negative impact on human health and the environment. In addition, too little of these metals are recovered from waste streams such as magnetic materials containing rare earth elements, automotive electronics, polishing agents containing cerium and lanthanum or LCD layers containing indium. The collection and separation of metals from usually low-concentration waste streams is costly. In addition, there is hardly any large-scale industrial recycling capacity available for waste containing minor metals.

The ILESA project therefore developed and evaluated a number of proposals:

  • The approaches for material and information flows to achieve more efficient collection and waste management logistics were specified. This includes consolidation of waste streams and automated level detection systems.
  • Introduction of dismantling and recycling obligations, possibly in combination with a labelling obligation as an effective and binding measure to increase the recycling of neodymium magnets from certain motors and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and electronic components from end-of-life vehicles.
  • Consolidation/pooling workshops to build networks of dismantling facilities and treatment companies, which separate the components containing precious and minor metals, the logistics operators and the potential recycling companies, as well as the establishment of recycling enterprise resource planning systems (not only for precious and minor metals) could enhance the profitability of recycling logistics.
  • The long-term interim storage of waste containing minor metals could bridge the time until large-scale industrial solutions are available. The present study elaborated the technical and organisational requirements for the storage design and requirements for the waste to be placed in storage. An amendment to Sec. 23 of the German Landfill Ordinance could enable long-term interim storage (more than 3 years). Such storage facilities could be operated by both public and private agencies and be financed via waste fees or on the basis of a legally established producer responsibility.