The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling for an urgent re-think of metal recycling practices as global demand for metal continues to soar. The UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP) has published two reports advocating a move away from a materials-centric approach to recycling, to one focused on targeting specific components of a product at the end of its life and devising ways to separate and recover them. Read more…
The IRP, which provides independent scientific assessment on the sustainable use of natural resources, says that as populations in emerging economies adopt similar technologies and lifestyles to developed countries, global metal needs are likely to become three to nine times larger than all the metals currently used in the world. Theoretically, metals can be recycled almost indefinitely, providing a valuable contribution to the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy. However, the growing complexity of products makes it difficult to extract and reuse all valuable metals.
The IRP’s two reports , ‘Environmental Risks and Challenges of Anthropogenic Metals Flows and Cycles’ and ‘Metal Recycling – Opportunities, Limits, Infrastructure’, advocate a far more sophisticated approach to recycling complex products that contain a variety of interlinked metals and materials. They look at the potential for recycling to mitigate environmental impacts and outline improvements to modern metal recycling schemes to achieve a workable sustainable metals management system.
Recommendations include developing certified systems based on Best Available Technologies for energy efficiency in mining and setting priorities for different metals, such as base metals, special metals, and critical technology metals. The reports also advocate introducing sensible policy targets for recycling that remain within what is thermodynamically possible and setting policy goals for recycling that align with economic drivers.
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