Material Focus commissioned Giraffe Innovation, in partnership with Swansea University, to investigate the scale of the opportunity to recover critical raw materials and technology metals from waste electricals. This involved a material flow analysis to identify which valuable materials were contained within waste electricals currently being recycled in the UK. It also examined quantities, economic value and the emitted CO2 equivalent of mining for these same materials. The report explored material recovery technologies at various stages of commercial readiness, to build a future vision of how advanced material recovery infrastructure could look in the UK.
Critical raw materials (CRMs) are vital in the manufacture of a wide range of electrical items, such as mobile phones, tablets and smart TV’s. Overall demand for raw materials globally is expected to double between 2010 and 2030, with demand for CRMs expected to accelerate by 20 times over the same period.
The research found that an average of 379,000 kg of critical and precious raw materials worth over £148m are found in waste electrical components and circuit boards every year, including gold, silver and palladium. These are currently exported for treatment with some lost through the existing recycling processes. The report also provides a technology roadmap for the advanced recycling infrastructure which the UK could invest in to help recover many of these materials.
With the UK throwing away 300,000 tonnes of electrical waste from households and businesses each year, the research shows a significant opportunity to address the UK’s economic vulnerability regarding these materials, by increasing the recycling of electricals.
Giraffe Innovation and Swansea University. July 2021. 179 pages. PDFDownload