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EU-Funded Project: Recycling CRMs in PCBs Should be Made Law
ST. GALLEN, SWITZERLAND – End-of-life printed circuit boards are among several electrical and electronic products containing critical raw materials, the recycling of which should be made law, says a new UN-backed report funded by the EU. A mandatory, legal requirement to recycle and reuse CRMs in select e-waste categories is needed to safeguard from supply disruption elements essential to manufacturers of important electrical, electronic and other products, says the European consortium behind the report, led by World Resources Forum.

The CEWaste consortium warns access to the CRMs in these products is vulnerable to geopolitical tides. Recycling and reusing them is “crucial” to secure ongoing supplies for regional manufacturing of electrical and electronics equipment. Today, recycling most of the products rich in CRMs is not commercially viable, with low and volatile CRM prices undermining efforts to improve European CRM recycling rates, which today are close to zero in most cases.

The report identifies gaps in standards and proposes an improved, fully tested certification scheme to collect, transport, process and recycle this waste, including tools to audit compliance.

“A European Union legal framework and certification scheme, coupled with broad financial measures will foster the investments needed to make recycling critical raw materials more commercially viable and Europe less reliant on outside supply sources,” says the consortium. “Acceptance by the manufacturing and recycling industry is also needed, as the standards will only work when there is widespread adoption.”

The report follows a 2020 EU action plan to make Europe less dependent on third countries for CRMs by, for example, diversifying supply from both primary and secondary sources, while improving resource efficiency and circularity.

“By adopting this report’s recommendations, the EU can be more self-sustaining, help drive the world’s green agenda and create new business opportunities at home.”

The project pinpoints PCBs from IT equipment among the equipment containing CRMs in concentrations high enough to facilitate recycling.

Recovery technologies and processes are well-established for some CRMs, such as palladium from PCBs. For other CRMs, ongoing recycling technology development will soon make industrial-scale operations possible but needs financial support and sufficient volumes to achieve cost-efficient operations.

Of 60+ requirements in European e-waste-related legislation and standards, few address the collection of CRMs in the key product categories, the consortium found. It proposes several additional technical, managerial, environmental, social and traceability requirements for facilities that collect, transport and treat waste, to be integrated into established standards, such as the EU 50625-series.

“Greater CRM recycling is a society-wide responsibility and challenge,” says the consortium. “The relevant authorities must improve the economic framework conditions to make it economically viable.”

The consortium supports legislation requiring recycling of specific critical raw materials in e-waste, market incentives to spur CRM recovery, and integrating CEWaste normative requirements into the European standard for e-waste treatment and making the whole set legally binding, among other recommendations.