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EU’s pioneering ‘Urban Mining’ initiative: Unveiling valuable resources within waste streams

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In a landmark move, expert organizations have collaborated to establish the first-ever European database aimed at extracting valuable materials through “urban mining.” The Urban Mine Platform, developed as part of the ProSUM project, consolidates data from 17 partner organizations to identify the recovery potential of secondary raw materials found in e-waste, scrap vehicles and mine waste.

This initiative aims to address the significant amount of valuable materials lost annually through improper disposal. Annually, approximately 18 million tonnes of waste, equivalent to the weight of 3 million African elephants, are discarded in the EU alone.

The database sheds light on the vast amount of valuable materials present in the EU’s waste streams, including scrap vehicles, batteries, computers, phones, and other high-tech products. For instance, in 2016, the EU, Norway, and Switzerland collectively generated about 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), accounting for approximately 23% of the world total.

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The Global e-Waste Monitor reported that e-waste alone contained €55 billion worth of precious metals and high-value materials. These materials, including base metals, precious metals and critical raw materials, are crucial for various industries.

The Urban Mine Platform offers detailed insights and market intelligence on various aspects, including:

  • The number and types of products placed on the market, in use, and generated as waste
  • Composition of key components, materials, and elements in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) and vehicles
  • Waste flows, including collection amounts and estimates for unsorted municipal solid waste

Urban mining is seen as vital for securing ongoing supplies of critical raw materials for manufacturing while reducing dependence on non-EU suppliers. By consolidating data from over 800 source documents and databases, the Urban Mine Platform provides a comprehensive knowledge base that can inform policy decisions and investments in recycling and resource recovery.

The project highlights the environmental and economic benefits of urban mining. For instance, mining discarded high-tech products produces 80% less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gold compared to primary mining operations. Moreover, an increasing number of products contain precious resources such as neodymium, indium, and cobalt, which are essential for various technologies.

Moving forward, the consortium aims to continuously update the database and improve data quality to better support stakeholders such as manufacturers, recyclers, policymakers, and researchers. By harnessing valuable resources from waste, the EU can reduce its environmental footprint, enhance resource security and promote a circular economy.

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