A variety of new technologies and waste recovery systems are being developed in response to European legislation and market forces that aim to recover critical raw materials (CRM) from end-of-life appliances. These diverse resource recovery processes are often regrouped under the concept of “urban mining”, which considers cities’ waste streams as economically important reserves of metals needed for digital and low-carbon technologies. Recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has been gaining increasing attention as a potentially economically important source of critical elements. Recycling WEEE avoids the environmental impact of landfilling hazardous materials while also reducing the need for primary extraction of critical materials, and the significant environmental damage extraction causes. Moreover, the EU is currently dependent on imports to supply much of it’s required critical raw materials and harvesting from waste stocks thus helps mitigate the risk that supply could be disrupted.
The specific processing route for recycling can be based on pyrometallurgical (e.g., smelting) or hydrometallurgical (e.g., leaching) routes. The optimal choice will depend largely on the material properties of the element in question, its concentration in the feedstock, and its value as a commodity. For instance, Rare Earth Elements often have diffused uses in advanced technologies, making their recovery costly due to high energy or chemical inputs needed to concentrate them. Meanwhile, printed circuit boards can contain up to ten times the concentration of precious metals as geological deposits. The EU is placing a significant emphasis through updated legislation and innovation funding on developing and upscaling methods for recovering raw materials from lithium-ion batteries and permanent magnets. Effective recovery will depend on product design, standardization, and effective recovery mechanisms alongside technical processing at the end-of-life.
Product life cycle stages & Modules (EN15978): D Reuse and Recycling