Recycling industry “needs to be part of the discussion”

A “huge quantity of metals” – including many designated as “critical” – would be required to meet energy transition objectives and, as a result, security of supply had become a hot topic, explained BIR International Environment Council (IEC) Chairman Olivier François (Galloo) the body’s latest meeting.

The development and implementation of a US critical minerals strategy had been accelerated by the COVID pandemic’s accentuation of “vulnerabilities in the supply chain”, delegates in Amsterdam were told by Robin Wiener, President of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. The USA imports more than 50% of its consumption of 43 of the 50 critical minerals identified on a United States Geological Survey list. Aluminium, nickel, and zinc already feature on this list, and copper producers have petitioned for the inclusion of copper. Furthermore, the USA has no domestic production for at least 14 of the listed minerals.

The three main pillars of the US critical minerals strategy are to diversify domestic sources, to develop alternatives, and to minimize waste and increase supply through more efficient processing, manufacturing, and recycling. These objectives will be backed by investment in R&D and by incentives for the private industry to move the strategy forward. The significant financial commitment includes US$ 3 billion in refining battery materials (lithium, cobalt nickel and graphite) as well as battery recycling facilities and innovation.

Ms Wiener emphasized that the strategy was clearly not US-centric, as it also promoted increasing trade and co-operation “with allies and partners” to reduce the USA’s dependence on sources that could be disrupted. For example, critical mineral agreement negotiations with the EU are ongoing.

The focus on critical minerals represented “a transformational point for our global industry”, Ms Wiener underlined. “We need to be a part of this discussion and not get left behind. We should develop a strategy of how we work together.”

Meanwhile, in March this year, the European Commission proposed a set of actions under the Critical Raw Materials Act to ensure the EU’s access to a secure, affordable and sustainable supply. The aim is that, by 2030, the EU will have ensured it is “not dependent on a single third country for more than 65% of its supply of any strategic raw material”, the IEC meeting was informed by Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation.

Another target identified by the Commission is for recycling capacity to be sufficient to produce “at least 15%” of the EU’s annual consumption of each strategic raw material. “For most of them,” said Mr Katrakis, “we are far, far, far from that.” Now that policy-makers had recognized recyclers as “key players”, it was necessary to build an understanding that many critical raw materials were not being recycled at present because companies would be risking bankruptcy. As had been introduced in the USA, he added, “we need a financial pillar that is missing today”.
Ms Wiener said: “BIR has the network to bring all of us together. We need to be part of the industrial strategy globally.”


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