Effects of circular measures on scarce metals in complex products – Case studies of electrical and electronic equipment
Journal article, 2019
Circular measures such as long-life designs, reuse, repair and recycling have been suggested for prolonging scarce metal life cycles and reducing the dependence on primary resources. This paper explores to what extent circular measures could mitigate metals scarcity when adopted to complex products. Based on three real cases, the effect of extending the use of laptops, smartphones and LED systems before recycling are assessed for between 7 and 15 scarce metals using material flow analysis. As expected, benefits can be gained from such extensions, but, importantly, differ substantially between metals since they occur in various components with various service lifetimes and functional recycling rates vary. Notably, risks of flipping the ranking in favor of short use before recycling are identified: if service lifetimes are short, designs are metal-intensive or if metal contents differ between products. Furthermore, regardless of measure, sizable and varying losses of each metal from functional use occur since all products are not collected for recycling and all metals are not functionally recycled. Thus, neither use extension measures nor recycling can alone nor in combination radically mitigate metals scarcity and criticality currently. Overall, it is a challenge to target the multitude of scarce and critical metals applied in complex products through circular measures. Careful analysis beyond simplified guidelines such as öR frameworks” are recommended. As the importance of scarce metals availability and the attention to the circular economy are expected to continue, these insights may be used for avoiding efforts with unclear or minor benefits or even drawbacks.
Critical raw materials
Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE)