Science and Technology Committee publishes report on strategically important metals

Exports of old electrical goods and scrap metal 'nonsensical'

Exporting electrical waste and scrap metal is ‘nonsensical’ as they are a potential resource for the UK, a committee of MPs says.

The Science and Technology Committee’s report into strategically important metals, also warned that the large quantities of metals and waste electrical and electronic equipment being sent abroad - often to developing countries - was an “unacceptable” example of the UK exporting its environmental problems.

Strategically important metals were vital to advanced manufacturing, low-carbon technologies and other growing industries, the committee said. Most strategic metal reserves were unlikely to run out over the coming decades, however, the perception of scarcity could lead to “increased speculation and volatility in price and supply”, it said.

Some 97 per cent of the world’s rare earth elements, such as neodymium which is used for electric motors and wind turbines, are supplied by China, which has recently imposed export quotas on the products, while reports of hedge funds buying up supplies could distort the market, the report said.

The committee also said that despite a rate of 90 per cent , by weight, metal recycling in the UK, it was of “great concern that some strategic metals are likely to be lost in the 10 per cent not being recycled”.

The MPs called for a “cradle-to-cradle” approach, with products designed so they can be returned to the manufacturers to be disassembled at the end of their useful lives and the metals in them reclaimed.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the committee, said: “There is significant potential for the UK to improve its efficiency of metal use, and we heard evidence of effective methods for materials recovery. It is vital that the Government explores these options without delay.”

Miller said the Government was keen to “burnish its green credentials but it is unacceptable for the UK to export its environmental problems elsewhere”.

“We urge the Government to engage with the governments of countries importing these materials to encourage higher environmental standards and adequate working practices for those processing the waste,” he said.

The committee also called on the Government to look into bringing in legislation that requires companies to produce detailed reports on the “conflict” materials they use.

The mining of important metals such as coltan, which is used in mobile phones, and cobalt, for medical implants, are said to play a role in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The committee also said the Government should work with the British Geological Survey to identify economically accessible reserves of important metals in the UK.

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