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Recycling Precious Metals

The Challenges in Recycling Precious Metals from WEEE.There are several stages involved in the recycling of WEEE , and the overall recovery rate will depend on the efficiency and effectiveness of each stage. The high precious metal yields achieved in the recovery stage, if state-of-the-art technologies are used, are insignificant if only a low proportion of WEE is collected or there is a large loss of gold in the dismantling and pre-processing stages. Today, less than 20% of the gold recycling potential is being realised from European WEEE due to the inefficiencies of the initial stages of the process chain.

The collection stage is the weakest part of the chain. There is still a long way to go in Europe, and in many other countries, in organising efficient collection. Governments have a major part to play here and must take this aspect seriously.

The biggest loss factor currently is that much WEEE is exported to countries in Asia and Africa, for example, for treatment or just for discarding. Such scrap is usually treated by low-tech ‘backyard’ recycling methods that have dramatic environment and health impacts on workers and local communities. Moreover, treatments are highly inefficient in terms of metals recovery,often focusing on ‘cherry-picking’ a few valuable metals; even for gold, yields are often lower than 25%.