EU Science Hub

Recovery of critical and other raw materials from mining waste and landfills

The transition to a more circular economy is essential to develop a sustainable, low carbon, resource efficient, and competitive economy in the EU. In this context Critical Raw Materials (CRM) are defined as those which are of particularly great importance to the EU economy and at the same time there is a high risk of supply disruptions. First and foremost, improving the circular use of CRM is a key strategy in improving the security of supply and not surprisingly is an objective of various policy documents. This report delivers on action #39 of the Circular Economy Action Plan: "Sharing of best practice for the recovery of critical raw materials from mining waste and landfills". It builds on discussions held during two 2018 workshops and gathers together six examples of existing practices for the recovery of critical, precious, and other materials from extractive waste and landfills, highlighting technological innovation and contributions that have been made to a more comprehensive knowledge-base on raw materials. The report also provides various estimates of potential recovery of certain materials compared to their current demand. Lessons learnt from the practices include awareness that it is very unlikely that recovery processes can target one or just a few specific materials of great interest and disregard other elements or bulk matrixes. Especially in case of very low concentrations, most of the mineral resources and other bulk materials in which they are embedded must be valorised in order to increase economic viability and minimise waste disposal. As recovery processes can be very energy intensive, environmental and land use related aspects are also particularly relevant even though environmental gains may also occur and, moreover, land space can be liberated and reused for new purposes and services. Finally, availability of data and information on secondary materials as well as a harmonized legislative framework within the EU appear to be crucial for the large-scale deployment of recovery practices.