The international consortium behind the EU Horizon 2020 CEWASTE project, led by the World Resources Forum Association, has recently published its final report, which provides key requirements and recommendations, alongside a standardised voluntary certification scheme, aimed at increasing the viability and rates of critical raw materials (CRMs) recycling. The consortium has focused on some key CRM-rich products, such as waste electronical and electric equipment (WEEE) and waste batteries. The completion of this project marks an important step towards the development of secondary markets able to support a reliable and sustainable supply of critical raw materials for the EU.
Why CEWASTE – the context behind the project
Lithium, Neodymium, Yttrium, Bismuth. While many of us do not attach a particular importance to these names, they refer to some of the chemical elements that represent key enablers for the shift towards a climate-neutral and digital economy. Given their highly strategic role and associated supply risk, they have been included in the list of critical raw materials created by the European Commission.
If you think about strategic sectors such as renewable energy, electric mobility, and defence, or high-tech solutions ranging from robotics to wind turbines and 3D printing, CRMs represent essential prerequisites for their development and large-scale deployment. For a competitive EU industry in the decades to come, a secure and sustainable supply of CRMs is of paramount importance.
Currently, the EU industry is largely dependent on imports for many of these raw materials and in some cases is highly exposed to vulnerabilities along the supply chain. Within such context, the development of secondary markets where CRMs can be recovered from specific waste streams and looped back into the economy is a key priority. As of today, however, this has proven difficult due to a variety of reasons, including the lack of regulatory requirements and a loose control over transboundary flows. Moreover, recycling most of the products rich in CRMs is not (yet) commercially viable due to the high capital requirements and low and volatile CRMs prices.
All these challenges lead to today’s reality where the current contributions of recycling to meet the EU demand of CRMs is for most CRMs under 10% and in many cases around 0%. This calls for concerted action to provide solutions to one key challenge: how do we improve recycling rates of CRMs and standardise the processes allowing us to do so?
The results of the CEWASTE project represent an important contribution to go one step forward in this direction.
The H2020 project “Voluntary Scheme for Waste Treatment” (CEWASTE) was designed with the objectives of developing and testing a set of normative requirements and the related certification scheme for improving recycling of Critical Raw Materials and valuable materials from waste electronical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and waste batteries.
The CEWASTE project started by developing criteria to assess the Key CRM Equipment (KCE), i.e. those devices for which the recycling of CRMs could be feasible, and by identifying relevant gaps thanks to a comprehensive mapping and assessment of more than 60 existing standards and verification schemes. Based on such a gap analysis and by taking stock of the existing standards, the project developed new requirements where existing ones were absent or not deemed satisfactory.
The set of normative requirements developed within the project include managerial, environmental, social, traceability and technical requirements for operators and facilities involved in the collection, transport and treatment of WEEE and waste batteries. These requirements were designed following the principles of (i) technological and economic feasibility, (ii) optimal collection, sorting and removal, (iii) continuous improvement, (iv) auditability, and (v) traceability. Their large-scale adoption will enable recycling processes that leverage economically and technically feasible treatment processes with minimum environmental and social impacts, and where monitoring of streams is applied.
Based on the requirements developed, the consortium also developed an assurance system and the related verification mechanism to ensure that the operators and facilities in the value chain, reliably comply with the CEWASTE normative requirements.
The CEWASTE scheme was successfully validated through more than 20 pilots at companies in Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, as well as in Colombia, Rwanda and Turkey. This scheme is of great value to all the actors along the value chain, as it provides them with clear rules and procedures to follow and enables an effective audit of such facilities in relation to their compliance.
Recommendations & long-term impact
Embedding the normative requirements and verification scheme into the wider economic, legislative and technological framework, the consortium partners have developed a number of overarching recommendations aimed at increasing the recycling rates of CRMs. A key recommendation calls for a mandatory legal requirement to recover and reuse specific CRMs in select e-waste categories.
Other recommendations to increase the commercial viability of such operations point to the necessity to provide market incentives in the development of CRMs secondary markets, providing fiscal and financial incentives, and supporting the establishment of supply-demand matchmaking platforms for CRMs. Finally, the authors of the report have called authorities to do a better job at enforcing rules about transboundary shipment of CRM-rich fractions outside the EU and the respect of technical standards along the value chain, together with a call for more targeted investments in research and development of new technologies.
To ensure that future actions will build upon the results of the CEWASTE project, enabling the developed scheme to be adopted at scale, it is important to convey all relevant stakeholders and mobilise concerted action. In this regard, Shahrzad Manoochehri, project leader from the World Resources Forum Association, has stated that:
“the CEWASTE project has provided tools, guidelines, documents and solutions for improving recovery of CRMs but these solutions will not have an effect in isolation. They should be considered as a framework and be implemented in a systemic way and with a multi-stakeholder perspective. This is a societal challenge and the responsibility for solving this challenge should be shared among different involved actors from policy makers, researchers, industries, businesses, and citizens.”
About the consortium
The CEWASTE consortium was coordinated by the World Resources Forum Association (Switzerland), and included the following partners: Oeko-Institut (Germany), European Electronics Recyclers Association (The Netherlands), WEEE Forum (Belgium), Austrian Standards (Austria), SGS Fimko Oy (Finland), Sofies (Switzerland), United Nations University, and ECOS (Belgium).
CEWASTE in the media
The CEWASTE project and outputs received global media coverage, including featured publications in:
- The Guardian
- BBC Digital Plante radio programme
- New Scientist
- Agence France Presse
- LifeGate Italy
- India Today
- ENDS Europe
- Circuits Assembly
- Tisen TV, Czech Republic