Raising metal recycling rates key part of path to Green Economy: UNEP
Less than one-third of 60 metals studied have end-of-life recycling rate above 50%; 34 are under 1%
Among recommendations: Boost waste management in developing economies,end hoarding of old phones and other electronic products
London/Brussels, 26 May 2011 Smarter product designs, support for developing country waste management schemes, and encouraging developed country households not to 'squirrel away' old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help boost recycling of metals worldwide.
According to a report released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lower than their potential for re-use.
Less than one-third of some 60 metals studied have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50 per cent and 34 elements are below 1 per cent recycling, yet many of them are crucial to clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to the magnets in wind turbines, says the study.
"In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low, and a 'recycling society' appears no more than a distant hope," states the Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report, compiled by UNEP's International Resource Panel.
The weak performance is especially frustrating because, unlike some other resources, metals are "inherently recyclable," says the study, released at the London Metal Exchange in the United Kingdom, and in Brussels at 'Green Week' by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP's Executive Director.
"In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental degradation. Raising levels of recycling world-wide can therefore contribute to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy while assisting to generate 'green jobs'," said Mr. Steiner.
Indeed, by some estimates recycling metals is between two and 10 times more energy efficient than smelting the metals from virgin ores. Meanwhile extraction alone currently accounts for seven per cent of the world's energy consumption, with emissions contributing significantly to climate change.