Costs of raw material extraction from WEEE

Geopolitical instability, accessibility of specific minerals and dwindling reserves create risks in the value chain. This increases the strategic relevance of extracting raw materials from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the EU. This article examines the amounts of critical raw materials (CRMs) originating from WEEE streams from a depletion perspective.

For a long time, recycling targets have been based solely on mass collection and recycling rates. This article explored the potential limitations of this approach using an exergy-based indicator called thermodynamic rarity. This indicator represents the exergy costs required to produce materials from raw rock to market. Italy has been used as a case study to explore the application of the indicator at the macro level (national) and micro level (company) for the product categories “small electronics” and “screens and monitors.”

The estimates show significant differences between the mass and rarity of materials within Italian WEEE streams. Although iron accounts for more than 70% by weight of the analyzed product categories, it accounts for less than 15% of the rarity. Similarly, several low-mass CRMs have a higher rarity value, such as tungsten with less than 0.1% of the mass and more than 6% of the rarity. It also highlights the policy context, arguing that thermodynamic rarity can provide new insights to support decision-making processes related to WEEE end-of-life, for example for recycling targets and standards to prioritize materials monitoring and recovery options.

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