Global metal recycling rates ‘discouragingly low,’ says UN study

London, England — June 8, 2011 — The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) recently released a report calling for greater levels of metal recycling around the world. The UNEP says the report is the first attempt to gather accurate and consistent information on the extent to which metals are collected, processed, and reused globally.

The UN group’s ultimate goal is to see a “recycling society” emerge around the globe but states that goal is far off because metal recycling rates are “discouragingly low.”

Of the 60 metals studied, less than one-third have a end-of-life (EOL) recycling rate greater than 50 percent. Thirty four of the metals have a end-of-life recycling rate of less than one percent. Included in those 34 are materials, such as lanthanum, used in the making of hybrid car batteries. However, include in the one-third that have a high EOL recycling rate are metals commonly used in vehicles such as titanium and aluminium.

“The weak performance is especially frustrating because, unlike most other resources, metals are ‘inherently recyclable,’” says study’s authors say.

“In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental degradation. Raising levels of recycling world-wide can therefore contribute to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy while assisting to generate ‘green jobs,’” says Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP’s Executive Director.

The report says it’s estimated that recycling metal is two to 10 times more energy efficient than smelting the metal from virgin ores. As well, the UNEP points out that extracting metal ore account for seven percent of the world’s energy consumption.

To read the report, click here.


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