Resource scarcity and the rise of the circular economy are inspiring businesses, industry associations and governments to develop new ways to recover precious and critical raw materials (CRMs) from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The Urban Mine Platform, a database of valuable materials for “urban mining,” is the public and private sectors’ latest attempt to take on the challenge.
A product of the European Union’s Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Waste (ProSUM) project, the Platform presents the flows of precious and base metals and CRMs in products in use and throughout their journey to end of life. It draws data from over 800 documents and databases from the EU’s 28 member states to create “a state of the art knowledge base” which policymakers and investors can use to increase the supply and recycling of secondary raw materials.
“Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first ‘one stop shop’ knowledge data platform on CRMs in waste products — easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable,” said Pascal Leroy, Secretary General of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based nonprofit and ProSUM project coordinator.
The EU, Norway and Switzerland generated around 10.5 million tons of WEEE in 2016 — about 23 percent of the world total. In addition, two million tons of batteries and some seven to eight million tons of EU vehicles reach their end-of-life annually. According to a recent ProSUM report, a smartphone contains around 40 different critical raw materials, with a concentration of gold 25 to 30 times that of the richest primary gold ores. Additionally, an increasing number of products contain precious resources such as neodymium (vital for making permanent magnets in motors), indium (used in flat panel displays) and cobalt (used in rechargeable batteries).