“A far more sophisticated approach is urgently needed to address the challenges of recycling complex products, which contain a broad variety of interlinked metals and materials.Product designers need to ensure that materials such as rare earth metals in products ranging from solar panels and wind turbine magnets to mobile phones can still be recovered easily when they reach the end of their life."
UN Under Secretary-General Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director
A key question that relates to the very broad and intensive use of metals is whether society needs to be concerned about long-term supplies of any or many of them. This is a many faceted question that cannot be answered quickly or unequivocally. To address it, the International Resource Panel's Global Metal Flows Working Group envisions a series of reports. This report is one of this series. It discusses how to increase metal-recycling rates – and thus resource efficiency – from both quantity and quality viewpoints.
Due to complex functionality, modern products contain complex mixes of almost any imaginable metal, material and compound. This growing complexity of modern products makes it difficult to extract and reuse valuable metals from waste products due to the laws of physics and related economics. For example, a mobile phone can contain more than 40 elements, including base metals such as copper and tin and precious and platinum-group metals such as silver, gold and palladium.
In order to boost historically low recycling rates, a global move from a Material-Centric to a Product-Centric approach, in which recycling targets specific components of a product and their complexity at its End of Life (EoL) and devises ways to separate and recover them, is essential. Optimizing the recycling of EoL products can avoid losses in efficiency throughout the chain of recycling. The global mainstreaming of such a Product-Centric view will be a remarkable step towards efficient recycling systems, resource efficiency and a Green Economy
Product-Centric recycling is discussed in this report by acknowledged experts. This approach is considered to be an essential enabler of resource efficiency by increasing recycling rates. This report provides a techno-economic, product design and physics basis to address the challenges of recycling increasingly complex products in the 21st century.