U.N. calls for much more metals recycling

Reuters News
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Posted: May 26, 2011 8:48 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - The world would not have to dig so much metal out of the ground if it strongly embraced recycling, which could be higher, the United Nations Environment Programme said on Thursday.

Smarter product designs and support for developing country waste management schemes would encourage recycling, said Thomas Graedel, a professor at Yale University and one of the authors of a report on metals recycling rates at a briefing.

"Encouraging developed country households not to 'squirrel away' old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help ... Recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lower than their potential re-use," he said.

"Ideally metals can be used over and over again. Do we have to keep digging it out of the ground?"

Less than one-third of some 60 metals studied by the programme have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50 percent.

Thirty-four elements have recycling rates below 1 percent, many of these are crucial for clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to magnets in wind turbines.

"In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low," the report states.

"The weak performance is especially frustrating because unlike some other resources, metals are inherently recyclable."

Recycling more would minimize the need to mine and process ore, which would save large amounts of energy and water.

"(That would) contribute to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy," the report said.

It added that extracting ore currently accounts for 7 percent of the world's energy consumption. "Indeed, by some estimates recycling metals is between two and 10 times more efficient than smelting the metal from virgin ores."

(Reporting by Pratima Desai; editing by William Hardy)