Recovering precious elements from e-waste is a security imperative for Europe that should be written into law, according to a report Monday that said it was “crucial” to ensure industry competitiveness and sustain tech-dependent lifestyles in the region. Circuit boards, magnets in disk drives and electric vehicles, batteries and fluorescent lamps are among items containing critical raw materials—including gold, silver and cobalt—that could be recycled and reused, the research found. This would safeguard supplies for consumer electronics and even the defence industry, said the consortium behind the European Union funded CEWASTE report, which said the fate of these materials was a “societal challenge”.
The report highlighted several categories of e-waste it said have high enough quantities of these raw materials to warrant being recovered. These include materials in printed circuit boards from discarded electrical equipment; batteries from e-waste and scrap vehicles; neodymium iron boron magnets from hard disc drives and engines of e-bikes, scooters and scrap vehicles; and fluorescent powders from lamps and cathode ray tubes—found in TVs and monitors. It found that low and volatile prices for many of these raw materials means that recycling is often considered too costly for businesses. The report called for legal requirements to recycle and reuse critical raw materials, financial incentives to support industry and better controls on shipments of e-waste out of the EU.
According to the United Nations, more than 50 million tonnes of electronic waste was discarded in 2019, with the vast majority ending up in landfill and on scrap heaps. With only 17 percent of products recycled, the UN estimates that materials worth more than $55 billion (50 billion euros) are being wasted every year.