Geneva, 22 May 2018 “You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Good and reliable information is important. You need information to make decisions about investments and policies. Think about the wallet you carry with you. You need to know how much is in it, to make decisions about buying an ice cream today or keep saving for new shoes. Governments, industries, financial institutions and society at large all need to know what is in the raw materials wallet.”
With these words WRF Managing Director Bas de Leeuw opened the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Special Workshop on Waste Valorization and Critical Raw Materials last month. The workshop was part of the Symposium on the Availability of Raw Materials from Secondary Sources: A key Aspect of Circular Economy, held in Geneva on 24 April 2018. The full opening speech can be downloaded from the UNECE website.
“Our global resource base is a very complex wallet. Many actors are having their fingers in it” (Bas de Leeuw, WRF)
According to De Leeuw, in particular for critical materials we most urgently need “the best knowledge we can get, and the best policies and investments. If we fail, then we are making our lives difficult, since we may have to slow down technological progress that we need to make this world a better place. Moreover, as we know, our global resource base is a very complex wallet. Many actors are having their fingers in it. Governance is important as well; finding ways and means of collectively managing the raw materials in such a way that we all can buy our ice creams and also keep our options open for our future.”
The UNECE symposium reflected on the future availability of secondary raw materials and the need for a unifying global standard – the United Nations Framework Classification (UNFC), to manage anthropogenic resources in a circular economy, with special reference to valorizing wastes for the recovery of Critical Raw Materials. The workshop was a follow up to the Workshop on Strategic Raw Materials and Sustainable Development, which was part of the World Resources Forum 2017, organized by ESM, the Entwicklungsfonds Seltene Metalle, the United Nations Economic Committee for Europe and the EIT Raw Materials. Many platforms exist in the world on resources and raw materials, De Leeuw said, “in fact the challenge is to connect all good initiatives in such a way that the common impact multiplies,” referring to the ongoing FORAM project, which is looking at the feasibility of a World Forum on Raw Materials.
De Leeuw recalled that knowledge is not only necessary about quantities and prices, rather on the environmental and social dimensions as well. “Today, this does not need much explanation. All actors in the chain are eager to keep the social license to operate. They are aware that both in primary and secondary materials extraction processes human beings are involved. These are people like you and me, they are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and they want to make a living for their children and themselves. Sometimes they are forced to work in hazardous conditions, without proper health protection, against embarrassing wages, without any rights, without dignity. There is no reason to let that situation exist.”
He was pleased with the results of the Sustainable Recycling Industries program, which has established guidelines for the sustainable management of secondary raw materials, in a project supported by the Swiss government, and carried out with the Swiss Laboratory for Materials Science and Technology Empa. With this the global ICT industry has a state-of-the art tool for traceability at hand. “This facilitates the use of secondary materials tremendously. And the quality of life of those workers in developing countries will improve, now that more and more countries are integrating the knowledge into their national policy frameworks.”
Talking about the role of science in decision-making processes he reflected that in general it takes a lot of time for society to understand what is going on. “Climate change, smoking, cellphone radiation, pesticides, micro-plastics artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons … the list is long. Perhaps a new balance needs to be found between technological progress and the protection of our health, our ecosystem and even the survival of our species. I believe we need a shortcut between scientific results and preventive action. Social scientists should help us to find the trigger in the behavior of individuals working for governments and companies. What is it that hinders the full application of common sense recommendations? If the answer is that these are short-term economic, financial and political interests, resistance to change, vested interests, then these obstacles need to be studied rather than be taken for granted.”
Raw Materials are Key Enablers for Energy, Mobility, Jobs and Growth
The UNECE Symposium discussed barriers to establish clean, functional and profitable materials cycles, such as barriers in data quality and harmonization, barriers to market readiness and confidence, and economic barriers as Ulrich Kral (University of Vienna) summarised.
Raw materials and advanced materials are, according to Karen Hanghøj, CEO of EIT Raw Materials, the key enablers for the transition in the energy and mobility sectors, as well as for sustainability and jobs and growth in Europe. Challenges include the lack of awareness about the need for mineral resources and the highly dynamic nature of criticality, scarcity and supply risks. She stated that the current administrative and economic framework regulating both primary and secondary raw materials is inadequate for sustainable exploitation of the resources. Instruments to forecast the dynamics of raw materials consumption are inadequate. Materials flows and leakages in the circular economy system for raw materials are poorly understood, resulting in a low exploitation rate for secondary raw materials.
Hanghøj recommended to strengthen the expertise covering the entire value chain for raw materials, raise awareness about the transition towards a green economy with its key pillars of renewable energies and e-mobility, promote increased process efficiency in the raw materials sector, promote improved recycling techniques and reduce the need for rare (critical) metals by looking for alternative materials, and ensure that data is made widely and efficiently available to relevant stakeholders. She echoed the expectations of the WEF Study on Mining and Metals in a Sustainable World 2015, in particular that the need for raw materials and mining will not disappear, and that there will be a strong move towards recycling and circularity and technology will matter more than ever.
Rodrigo Chanes, European Commission. Directorate-General for Internal Market presented an overview of EC Policies on Raw Materials and Circular Economy. The aim of the Raw Materials Initiative is to secure sustainable supplies of raw materials with an integrated 3-pillar strategy: ensure a level playing field in access to resources in third countries, foster sustainable supply from European sources, and boost resource efficiency and recycling, which links with the EU Circular Economy Action Plan. He also referred to the upcoming 3rd Raw Materials Week, to be held in Brussels, 12 – 16 November 2018.
Other speakers in the workshop included Stephan Moll (Eurostat), Patrick Wäger (Empa) and Julian Hilton (Canada Mining Innovation Council, CMIC).
Further information on Raw Materials from Secondary Sources
Securing the future supply of energy and minerals is fundamental for both regional and global economic development and prosperity. In contrast to the traditional mining sector, the stakeholders in the urban mining, recycling and recovery sector lack reliable information on the material quantities expected to be available in the near future. This impedes the identification of recycling and recovery opportunities and creates risks for investment decisions concerning secondary raw material processing facilities. In addition, it hinders national resource planners from integrating primary and secondary sources into a comprehensive raw material system that can be used for accounting, scenario development, and policymaking. To overcome the barriers, reliable and transparent estimates on the availability of secondary raw materials are needed.
Therefore, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) – Expert Group on Resource Classification (EGRC) and the pan-European Expert Network “Mining the European Anthroposphere” (COST Action MINEA) are developing a new standard for classifying raw materials from secondary sources, such as mine tailings, buildings, infrastructure, consumer goods, and all sources from the material life cycle stages, including production, use and endof-life. Applying this new standard enables consistency and transparency in communicating retrievable material quantities. This allows government authorities, policy makers, investors and decision makers in the materials and waste management sectors to make a reasoned and balanced judgment on the potential of material sourcing projects and strategies. From an operational point of view, it supports project portfolio management, national material management, policy setting and capital allocation.
Background and workshop documents and full speaker presentations can be downloaded from the UNECE website.