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Less Than A Third Of Metals Have Recycling Rate Of 50%

May 27, 2011

A U.N. report warned the green technology industry on Thursday that less than a third of metals have a recycling rate of over 50 percent.

“Many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low, and a recycling society appears no more than a distant hope,” said the recycling report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). “This is especially true for many specialty metals, which are crucial ingredients for key emerging technologies.”

The head of the European Environment Agency highlighted the concerns for the emerging green industry.

“All the clean technologies — batteries, hybrid cars, magnets in wind turbines for example — they are relying on metals for which we have extremely low rates of recycling,” Jacqueline McGlade, director of the European Environment Agency told the European Union Green Week conference.

“We have to up our recycling rates,” she said.

Shortages of rare earth minerals used in high-tech and defense production have been a global concern since dominant producer China restricted exports.

The EU is developing a strategy that could include a program to stockpile the most critical raw materials.

The UNEP report showed one of the highest global recycling rates was for lead, mainly from batteries, at around 80 percent.

Estimates of gold and silver ranged from over 90 percent in the jewelry sector to less than 15 percent in electronics.

“There is virtually no recycling of the rest, including metals like Indium used in semiconductors, energy efficient light emitting diodes (LEDs), advanced medical imaging and photovoltaics,” said a UNEP statement.

“The story is similar with other specialty metals like tellurium and selenium, used for high efficiency solar cells, and for neodymium and dysprosium used for wind turbine magnets, lanthanum for hybrid vehicle batteries, and gallium used for LEDs,” it added.

McGlade called for smarter use of resources in general.

“What does Europe consume? It’s fairly large numbers — about 16 or 17 tons per person per year,” she said. “It’s four times what someone in Africa uses, three times what somebody in Asia, but it’s only half of what people in Australia, Canada and the U.S. use.”

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