Better recycling of precious metals is ‘critical’
The recycling of critical materials is becoming more commonplace, believes Alan Harvey, business development manager and WEEE specialist at UNTHA UK. Yet there is still a lot of work to be done. Alan therefore shared some of his thoughts with international journal Waste Management World this month, highlighting the recycling trends in this niche sector and the extent to which conversation surrounding the circular economy is driving progress. If you missed his interview, you can read his commentary here, in full:
Very few people would dispute the value of precious metals such as gold and palladium. Why then, when it comes to the recovery of such critical materials, is performance, on the whole, so insufficient? WEEE is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, after all, so the greater the level of electrical equipment we dispose of, the more valuable resources we lose.
For too long the somewhat lazy or dismissive mind-set of WEEE being ‘someone else’s problem’, has overridden the tendency to reuse, repair, recycle and recover electrical equipment and its component parts. We ought to be taking greater responsibility, in our domestic nations, for the ‘waste’ we produce.
The carbon impact of WEEE being shipped to the other side of the world for recycling, is bonkers. Plus, in taking this route, we fail to harness the value of increasingly scarce resources that we should be working hard to protect. Plus, if primitive recycling methodologies are adopted, as is often the case, the health and environmental impact can be devastating.
The encouraging sign is that there are many responsible – and also incredibly profitable – organisations, sitting up and tackling the complex area of critical material recycling. A number of facilities in Germany, for example, bear greater resemblance to sophisticated manufacturing plants, than traditional waste centres. They are clean, efficient and incredibly well designed, with intuitive technology complementing the work of skilled operatives. And bit by bit, the UK is following suit.
Organisations are starting to pay more attention to the waste hierarchy, and are prioritising the reuse and repair of electrical equipment, so it does not become waste. When this is unfeasible, careful pre-treatment of WEEE enables hazardous materials to be removed, so that controlled hand-dismantling can take place and the greatest level of critical materials be salvaged.
Mechanical processing is also an option. WEEE can be shredded to liberate the materials and produce a homogenous fraction, which can then be thoroughly sorted using advanced separation equipment. And the result? Segregated material streams yield significant revenue, resources are preserved, and the industry is safe in the knowledge that this multifaceted ‘waste’ has been handled responsibly.
Ongoing debate surrounding the circular economy can no doubt take some credit for this progress. There is a growing acknowledgement that society cannot afford to keep losing critical materials, and, there is wealth in waste.
Unfortunately many countries like the UK have historically taken a short term view, opting for the opportunity to make a small amount of money fast, rather than investing to secure larger revenues over the longer term. But this is changing. In July, the European Commission began talking more about the economic benefit that closed loop business models can bring. The more people that acknowledge the increasing value of critical materials and the financial advantages that resource security achieves, the greater the progress we should see.
UNTHA UK is one of the country’s most renowned industrial shredder manufacturers, specialising in the processing of varied material streams including WEEE, plastics, metals, organics, MSW, C&I and confidential waste, to name just a few. To discuss your specific requirements with one of our experienced shredding consultants, please call us on 0845 450 5388, email email@example.com or complete our short enquiry form and we’ll be in touch.