Norah Lewis from the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) explained that “in the UK we send to landfill over half a million tonnes of electronic waste every year and over a tonne of that is gold (Au)”. One of many EU-funded projects in this area, the ‘Critical Raw Materials Recovery Project’ led by WRAP in the UK, is looking at new policies and take-back plans for electronic wastes working with major charities and retailers.
The day was full of exciting science that is aiming to provide solutions for processing electronic wastes to recover CRMs and also in generating energy from waste, including a presentation on catalysis engineering for sustainable technologies from the 2017 Sustainable Energy Award winner, Professor Javier Perez Ramirez (ETH Zurich).
Technical solutions from the chemicals sciences, sound policies and a change in behaviour from consumers, all need to evolve and come together via effective collaborations, to ensure that we retain the value of our critical raw materials from emerging electronic wastes. It was broadly recognised that one policy ambition to increase the rate of recycling, would be to achieve a technological solution for irreversibly wiping data from old devices, to assure consumers that their data would not be stolen when handing machines over for reuse and recycling. This is currently a risk unless hard drives are physically disintegrated to retrieve CRMs.