UN call for global recycling of precious metals

29 Sep 2010

The UN’s environment chief has called for what he refers to as a “global drive” to recycle rare metals and emphasised their importance in green technologies.

Executive director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said there was a demand for “rare earth metals”, such as lithium and neodymium – used to power hybrid cars and as components in wind and solar power – which are accelerating fast.

Due to the limited availability of “rare earths”, which can be mined in few locations, Steiner raised his concerns that the global supply for a clean, high-tech economy could be quickly depleted as well as hampered by geopolitical disputes – such as the recent territorial spat between China and Japan.

Economic rationale

“There is both a strategic as much as an environmental or an economic rationale to rapidly look at making these metals part of a recycling economy,” Steiner told AFP, insisting on the need for an economically stable green tech industry.

He said that the demand for rare earth metals was “immense”.

Industries that could be affected by the lack of precious metal are namely the electronics, car and energy industries, according to Steiner, and he believes that some rare metals could be exhausted by 2050 unless action is taken.