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Critical metals in discarded electronics

Mapping recycling potentials from selected waste electronics in the Nordic region

image of Critical metals in discarded electronics

Recycling of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) traditionally focuses on large quantities of waste materials such as plastics. However, some product groups in the WEEE contain hidden treasures in the form of critical metals. This project assesses the critical metals’ waste handling as part of five selected product groups, in the Nordic region. The environmental and economic benefits from the recycling of these metals currently and in the near future is quite substantial, mainly due to the presence of significant quantities of gold in the selected products. In order to contribute further to the circular economy concept, the Nordic countries should pay attention not only to quantitative but also to qualitative aspects of recycling, in order to capture recyclable materials that, although in small quantities, their recycling brings a high economic and environmental value.

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Proposals for a Nordic region strategy

As our analysis shows, there are significant environmental and economic benefits associated with the recovery of critical metals from WEEE. Note that the focus is only on a handful of selected product groups, hinting that the potential for benefits could be much higher when the entire WEEE stream is taken into account. However, recovery of critical metals is relatively low in general, while focus is given only on a few selected metals of very high economic value, such as gold.

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