U.N. says green economy depends on metal recycling - usatoday.com

U.N. says green economy depends on metal recycling

May 20, 2010 - usatoday.com

A green global economy will require much high recycling rates of specialty metals like lithium, neodymium and gallium, says a new United Nations report.

These metals, needed to make wind turbines, solar panels and hybrid car batteries, are scarce in nature and expensive yet only about 1% of them are recycled, according to preliminary findings by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). It will publish the final version later this year.

Unless recycling increases dramatically, the report warns that specialty and rare earth metals could become "essentially unavailable for use in modern technology."

It says recycling rates are much higher, between 25% to 75%, for metals such as iron, steel, copper, aluminum, lead and tin. Still, it says increasing these rates could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because recycling metals is much more energy efficient than smelting them.

"Boosting end-of-life recycling rates not only offers a path to enhancing those supplies and keeping metal prices down, but can also generate new kinds of employment while ensuring the longevity of the mines and the stocks found in nature," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's Executive Director, in a statement.

Concern has been rising about the supply of specialty metals. In March, scientists warned a congressional committee that growth of green-tech industries will be limited by China's export limits on rare-earth elements, according to a CNET's Green Tech blog.