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Raw materials: Recycled resources, new potential

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The supply of raw materials, the lifeblood of today's high-tech industry, is increasingly under pressure. Thus, as Europe shifts towards a more resource-efficient economy, the European Commission is committed to using any and all resources at our disposal – including waste. This push is part of European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani’s European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on raw materials, designed to establish Europe as the leader in raw material exploration, extraction, processing and recycling by 2020.

Building upon the idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, the European Commission is exploring ways to utilise waste as a resource for European industry. Treating waste – also known as ‘secondary raw materials’ – as a resource presents a unique opportunity to help the economy while creating a more resource-efficient Europe.

Recycling is a pillar of efficiency and sustainability, but the idea of using waste as a resource takes this a step further, creating a so-called ‘circular economy’. In an ideal circular economy, used materials are utilised as components in the production of goods. In other words, different types of waste – from metal to paper to glass to plastic – should be seen as part of a cycle, not the end of a line.

According to European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani: ‘Realising waste’s potential as an input in industrial processes – and not merely an output – will create jobs, benefit the environment and strengthen industrial competitiveness.’

In order to identify the opportunities and barriers associated with using waste as an input, the Commission published a study entitled, ‘Treating Waste as a Resource for EU Industry: Analysis of various waste streams and the competitiveness of their client industries’.

The study, prepared by the Danish Technological Institute and released at the end of 2013, investigated how materials flow in a competitive economy, with an emphasis on five selected so-called ‘waste streams’ – batteries (excluding car batteries); iron and steel; waste paper other than packaging; waste electric and electronic equipment; and used tyres.

By evaluating the markets for each category of waste material, the study identified industries in which recycled materials could help increase efficiency while simultaneously decreasing the amount of waste that is discarded and unutilised. No doubt, many sectors still lack optimal solutions, leaving unexploited waste’s potential as a viable resource for EU industry.

European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on raw materials

In order to establish Europe as the leader in raw materials technologies by 2020, the European Commission in September 2013 proposed the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on raw materials. The partnership brings together EU Member States and other key stakeholders – such as European companies, researchers and NGOs – to promote innovative solutions to Europe's raw materials challenge.

EIP builds upon the success of ongoing projects, such as those backed by the EU's Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7). For example, the 'ProMine' project, which aims to improve the EU’s knowledge base for actual and future waste deposits, is expected to develop the first ever pan-European mineral resources database and detailed 4D computer modelling system. Improved access to minerals will enhance the development of innovative products such as thin photovoltaic layers, energy-efficient lighting, electric cars, advanced passenger jets, infra-red optics and fibre glass.


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