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Grappling With an Avalanche of Waste

 Electronic waste viewed by a delegation from Zimbabwe that visited the Rwanda Green Fund - FONERWA - to learn about the fund's structure and operations. They toured some of the fund's investments: low carbon construction materials with Zero Carbon Designs and the E-Waste Recycling Facility. June 14, 2018 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

Electronic waste viewed by a delegation from Zimbabwe that visited the Rwanda Green Fund – FONERWA – to learn about the fund’s structure and operations. They toured some of the fund’s investments: low carbon construction materials with Zero Carbon Designs and the E-Waste Recycling Facility. June 14, 2018 (Photo by Rwanda Green Fund) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 9, 2018 ((Maximpact.com News) – Due to the growing volume of plastic waste now being produced and the plastic waste import ban imposed by China on December 31, 2017, plastic wastes, primarily from Europe, Japan, and North America, are now adrift on the global market. They have been arriving in the ports of countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia in alarming amounts.

The plastic scrap is often contaminated and mixed in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to recycle, so it ends up being dumped or burned openly in the recipient countries, creating toxic emissions and terrestrial and marine pollution.

In the first five months of 2018, Thailand had already seized 30,000 container loads of plastic scrap in their ports and was forced to impose an emergency import ban.

Governments worldwide are struggling with an avalanche of waste and coming up with solutions, large and small.

The most recent meeting of the world’s only international treaty on waste control ended with expressions of widespread and growing support for a proposal by Norway to add plastics to the list of wastes subject to the trade controls under the treaty, known as the Basel Convention.

The proposal, made at a September meeting in Geneva, is seen as a key mechanism to stem the tide of marine debris and plastic litter. It would add plastic waste to the list of wastes that require notification by exporting countries and consent by importing countries before export.

“Southeast Asia is already being hit hard by a tsunami of plastic waste,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement. “The Norwegian proposal to place plastic scrap under Basel controls will be a significant first step to protect Southeast Asia and developing countries everywhere from becoming the trash bins of the developed world.”

Many countries voiced their support for the Norwegian proposal on the floor of the meeting, including: China, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Maldives, Malaysia, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Senegal, South Africa, State of Palestine, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, and Uruguay.

While there was broad support for the proposal, Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union are seeking to block, delay or water down the proposal.

“The severity of the plastic pollution problem and its impacts on human health and the environment are undeniable and require urgent action. We cannot let a few countries or industry sectors prevent much-needed and in fact overdue action from the global community,” says David Azoulay, senior attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law.

The meeting also recommended the creation of a multi-stakeholder global partnership on the minimization of plastic waste. Both proposals – partnership and trade control – will go to the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention for a decision in April 2019.

“The Basel Convention is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in stemming the flood tide of plastic waste now engulfing the entire planet,” said Jim Puckett, director of the Basel Action Network, based in Seattle, Washington.

“They can do this not only by controlling unwanted trade, but by promoting steps to minimize the production of single-use and other unsustainable plastic products,” said Puckett. “We are thrilled that this week’s meeting has clearly signaled a turning of the tide.”

In VTT’s PlastBug projects, microbes are being screened through a three-stage process. (Photo courtesy VTT) Posted for media use

In VTT’s PlastBug projects, microbes are being screened through a three-stage process. (Photo courtesy VTT) Posted for media use

Cleaning the Oceans of Plastic Waste

To help cleanse the world’s oceans of the tons of plastic waste that have gathered in swirling gyres, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has developed a mobile container unit called PlastBug. The unit acts to remove plastics from the water and treat them with microbes to turn them into useable chemicals.

“Our idea is to design a mobile container where microbes degrade plastic waste to valuable products like fuels or chemicals,” says Kari Koivuranta, principal scientist at VTT.

The small, container-based factories could be placed in areas where centralized plastic waste collecting or recycling is not possible. The container factories could be located on a beach or ship.

The factory units would get most of the energy needed for the process from solar energy and wind power.

The goal is for the pilot unit to operate on the Baltic Sea in 2021, but funding still needs to be secured for the realization of this plan.

The Urban Mining chart of tungsten alloys placed on the market per country in tonnes for all collection categories is an example of the multitude of charts offered by the ProSUM consortium. 2018 (Image courtesy ProSUM) Posted for public use

The Urban Mining chart of tungsten alloys placed on the market per country in tonnes for all collection categories is an example of the multitude of charts offered by the ProSUM consortium. 2018 (Image courtesy ProSUM) Posted for public use

Building With Waste Materials

A growing scarcity of resources, along with the desire to move away from today’s throwaway mentality, means that the building sector must give more thought to the multiple use and recyclability of materials, as well as to alternative methods of construction.

A residential module fully constructed from reusable, recyclable, and compostable materials is the premise for the newest unit in NEST, the modular research and innovation building run by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf.

On February 8, the NEST Urban Mining & Recycling unit opened its doors to house two students. At the same time, as an active lab, it is helping to advance the construction industry’s transition to a recycling economy.

The residence features structures and materials that can be fully reused, repurposed, recycled, or composted after deconstruction of the module.

The concept was designed by Werner Sobek with Dirk Hebel and Felix Heisel. Sobek is director of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design at the University of Stuttgart.

Hebel is the director and Heisel is the head of research at the Chair of Sustainable Construction at Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Future Cities Laboratory at the Singapore-ETH Center, established in 2010 by two Swiss government agencies that conduct high tech research.

“The ongoing, sustained growth of the global population as well as dwindling resources urgently require us to do some rethinking in the construction industry,” says Sobek. “In future, we must reduce our consumption of construction materials and build for many more people.”

So, the concept of cycles must play a central role on the path to more sustainable construction. “The materials that we utilize will not just be used and then disposed of; instead they will be extracted from their cycle and later returned to it,” Hebel explains.

Database for Urban Waste Miners

In one of the more sweeping solutions to the world’s waste problems, European organizations have united to create the world’s first database of valuable materials available for urban mining from scrap vehicles, spent batteries, waste electronic and electrical equipment, and mining wastes.

The Urban Mine Platform <urbanmineplatform.eu>, created by 17 partners in project ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes), presents the flows of precious and base metals and critical raw materials in products in use and throughout their journey to end of life.

The database reveals the amount of valuable materials recovered or lost in the EU’s scrap vehicles, batteries, computers, phones, devices, appliances and other high tech products discarded annually – roughly 18 million tonnes in all.

The ProSUM consortium says urban mining to recover valuable critical raw materials from wastes is vital for securing ongoing supplies for manufacturing and to limit dependence on non-EU suppliers.

This platform displays all readily available data on products put on the market, stocks, composition and waste flows for electrical and electronic equipment, vehicles and batteries for all EU 28 Member States plus Switzerland and Norway. Iceland is also included for vehicles.

The EU, Norway and Switzerland generated some 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment in 2016 – about 23 percent of the world total. In addition, two million tonnes of batteries and some seven to eight million tonnes of EU vehicles reach their end-of-life each year.

All represent a rich source of secondary critical raw materials.

The recently published Global e-Waste Monitor reported that the world’s 44.7 metric tonnes of e-waste alone in 2016 contained €55 billion worth of precious metals and other high value materials.

The Urban Mine Platform contains data for elements and materials in high abundance in these waste products, mainly base metals, precious metals, and critical raw materials.

Dynamic charts on the Urban Mine Platform offer detailed data and market intelligence on The number and type of products placed on the market, in-stock, and generated as waste. The compositions of key components, materials and elements, such as aluminum, copper, gold or neodymium are given, in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), and vehicles.

Pascal Leroy, secretary general of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit association and ProSUM project coordinator says, “Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first ‘one stop shop’ knowledge data platform on CRMs in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable.”

Featured Image: Plastic bottles in Findon, Adelaide, South Australia, April 17, 2018 (Photo by Michael Coghlan) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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EU Maps Rich Resources for Urban Waste Mining

This massive salt pile is visible from the A4 Autobahn near Heringen, Germany is left over from potash mining in the region. (Photo by Gord McKenna) Creative Commons license via Flickr

This massive salt pile is visible from the A4 Autobahn near Heringen, Germany is left over from potash mining in the region. (Photo by Gord McKenna) Creative Commons license via Flickr

by Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, January 19, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – Gold, platinum, aluminum and copper are just a few of the valuable materials lying hidden in vast piles of waste batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), scrap vehicles and mining wastes across the European Union.

Today, for the first time, expert organizations have unveiled the world’s first European database of valuable materials available for “urban mining” from these waste heaps.

The new Urban Mine Platform , created by 17 partners in project ProSUM, which stands for Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes, presents the flows of precious and base metals and critical raw materials for products in use and throughout their journey to end of life.

The database reveals the roughly 18 million tonnes of valuable materials recovered or lost in the EU’s scrap vehicles, batteries, computers, phones, gadgets, appliances and other high tech products discarded every year.

The 28 European Union Member States, plus Norway and Switzerland, generated around 10.5 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in 2016 – about 23 percent of the world total.

In addition, two million tonnes of batteries and some seven to eight million tonnes of EU vehicles reach their end-of-life annually. All are a rich source of secondary critical raw materials (CRMs).

Pascal Leroy is secretary general of the WEEE Forum, a Brussels-based not-for-profit association and ProSUM project coordinator.

“Three years in the making, this consolidated database is the world’s first one stop shop knowledge data platform on critical raw materials in waste products – easy to access, structured, comprehensive, peer-reviewed, up-to-date, impartial, broad in scope, standardized and harmonized, and verifiable,” said Leroy.

The recently published Global e-Waste Monitor reports that the world’s 44.7 metric tonnes of e-waste alone, not including vehicles, in 2016 contained €55 billion worth of precious metals and other high value materials.

The Urban Mine Platform contains data for elements and materials in high abundance in these waste products, mainly base metals, precious metals, and critical raw materials.

Charts offer detailed data and market intelligence on:

  • The number and type of products placed on the market, in-stock, and generated as waste
  • The compositions of key components, materials and elements, such as aluminum, copper, gold or neodymium, in batteries, electronic and electrical equipment (EEE), and vehicles
  • Waste flows, including amounts collected, estimates for small batteries and EEE in unsorted municipal solid waste, exported used vehicles, as well as the amount of vehicles, batteries and EEE of unknown whereabouts.

The ProSUM consortium says “urban mining” to recover valuable CRMs from wastes is vital for securing ongoing supplies for manufacturing and limit dependence on non-EU suppliers.

To that end, the project partners created from over 800 source documents and databases what they call “a state of the art knowledge base, using best available data in a harmonized and updateable format, which allows the recycling industry and policymakers to make more informed investment and policy decisions to increase the supply and recycling of secondary raw materials.”

The ProSUM report notes that a smartphone contains around 40 different critical raw materials, with a concentration of gold 25 to 30 times that of the richest primary gold ores.

The consortium explains that mining discarded high tech products produces 80 percent less carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gold than primary mining operations do.

ProSUM has shown that an increasing number of products contain precious resources such as neodymium, vital for making permanent magnets in motors; indium, used in flat panel displays; and cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries.

The Urban Mine Platform makes it possible to see the stocks and flows of these products.

Jaco Huisman of the United Nations University, and ProSUM Scientific Coordinator, says, “Until now, data on such critical raw materials have been produced by a variety of institutions, including government agencies, universities, NGOs, and industry, with the information scattered across various databases in different formats and difficult to compare or aggregate and often representing an outdated snapshot for a certain year only.”

“The ProSUM effort helps remedy that problem, and enables the identification of so-called hotspots – the largest stocks of specific materials,” said Huisman.

Europe can potentially mine two million tonnes of batteries a year.

The ProSUM report points to a sharp jump in battery waste the European Union, Switzerland, Norway since year 2000, with 2.7 million tonnes expected to be put on the market in 2020, up from roughly 1.7 million tonnes in 2000.

European authorities know the fate of only half of the estimated two million tonnes of batteries discarded in 2015, about 90 percent of them lead-based.

Other types of batteries available for urban mining – nickel-metal hydride, zinc-based and lithium-based – are a significant source of lithium (7,800 tonnes), cobalt (21,000 tonnes) and manganese (114,000 tonnes).

Vehicles are an increasingly rich source of critical raw materials.

Europe’s end of life vehicles represent a large source of secondary base metals like steel (213 million tonnes), aluminium (24 million tonnes) and copper (7.3 million tonnes), as well as platinum and palladium used in car catalysts.

Vehicles also contain large amounts of critical raw materials due to electronics, as well as alloying elements used in steel, aluminum and magnesium.

Few electric vehicles have yet reached end of life. Still, with sales rising, these will be a source of growing importance for secondary raw materials like neodymium, lithium and cobalt.

The report notes that more than 40 percent of registered vehicles are “of unknown whereabouts” – a gap attributable in part to unreliable data on used vehicles traded within the EU, unreported recycling, and exports beyond Europe.

Mining waste is rich in low grade metals.

The project is also amassing information about resources available in mining waste, which deposits are commonly very large but of low metal grade. New data, such as location, type of waste and origin available in a special extension of the database at Minerals4EU .

Mining waste differs in many respects from the other product groups in ProSUM in that there is no EU legislation that requires recycling, there is no major recycling industry, and Eurostat statistics on mining waste are sparse and only at country level.

The project outcomes are embedded in the European Commission’s (EC) Raw Materials Information System to create a more comprehensive and structured repository of knowledge related to primary and secondary sources consumed in the EU.

With this information, manufacturers can gain confidence about future recycled raw material supplies. Recyclers will have better intelligence about the changes in product types and material content which impact on their business and provide future recovery potential.

The mining industry can use this information for greater certainty about the quantities and types of materials needed in the marketplace, mitigating risk and improving profitability.

Policymakers will be better informed on raw material supplies, which affect jobs and financial institutions, and how materials are linked to energy consumption.

Researchers will have better data quantity, quality, completeness and reliability.

Katerina Adam, associate professor, School of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens said, “The ProSUM project has advanced the knowledge base for extractive wastes by assessing the availability of data on CRMs in mining waste deposits and expanding the scope of the Minerals Knowledge Data Platform to include more mining, processing, and waste reprocessing activities in future.”


Featured: Wrecked cars in a scrapyard near Wokingham, England, UK contain valuable raw materials. (Photo by sleepymyf) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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