Report Predicts Shortage of Rare Metals Without Better Recycling

Failure to advance metal recycling, especially of rare metals used in high-tech products, could produce a global shortage of many metals within two decades, according to a series of reports by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

With few exceptions, recycling rates have been modest or low, and in some cases non-existent, the report says.

At a news conference, Thomas Graedel, a member of UNEP’s International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management and a Yale University professor, cited the example of indium, a metal used to create transparent electrodes used in liquid crystal displays, touch screens, semiconductors, and photovoltaic cells.

Global demand for the metal is expected to grow from 1,200 tons this year to 2,600 tons next year, he said.

Yet, like most specialty metals, recycling rates for the metal are below 1 percent. While he did not predict that the materials will disappear altogether, “we do think there is a reasonable prospect that over the next two or three decades some materials may be in short enough supply so that they will become essentially unavailable as routine materials for industry.”

Demand for more common metals, such as copper and aluminum, also has doubled during the last 20 years and is expected to continue growing.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

photo: Bert van Dijk

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