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Yale advocates international recycling policy

United States – Researchers at Yale University in the USA have underlined the need to organise recycling policy on an international scale, saying this is essential for ‘€˜specialty metals’€™ such as rare earths.

‘€˜A recycling rate of zero for specialty metals is alarming when we consider that their use is growing quickly,’€™ explains research scientist Barbara Reck from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. ‘€˜Metals are infinitely recyclable in principle but, in practice, recycling is often inefficient or essentially non-existent because of limits imposed by social behaviour, product design, recycling technologies and the thermodynamics of separation.’€™

Given that rare earths are used only in small amounts and for very precise technological purposes, such as red phosphors and high-strength magnets, a serious attempt to recover and recycle them is ‘€˜seldom made’€™, she says.

This leads, she adds, to the following irony: ‘€˜The more intricate the product and the more diverse the materials it uses, the better it’€™s likely to perform but the more difficult it is to recycle.’€™ 

Research colleague Thomas Graedel, Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology, says: ‘€˜Depending on the metal and the form of scrap, recycling can save as much as a factor of 10 or 20 in energy consumption.’

‘The situation clearly calls for international policy initiatives to minimise the seemingly bizarre situation of spending large amounts of technology, time, energy and money to acquire scarce metals from the mines and then throwing them away after a single use,’ urges Professor Graedel.

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