In a landmark study which is the first of its kind, the UN Environment Program found that less than one third of 60 metals studied were being substantially recycled. This puts a green economy at risk, as metals used in technologies such as wind turbines are rare and expensive. In addition, recycling reduces the need for mining, which accounts for over seven percent of the world’s energy consumption.
Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director stated “In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimising the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimising environmental degradation.” He then went on to say that recycling was necessary to transition to an efficient green economy.
Components of stainless steel, iron and precious metals are all being recycled at an acceptable level. However, rarer metals used in items like solar panels and wind turbines are not being recycled, underscoring the need for development of a recycling program for metal extraction from these technologies when they reach end-of-life.