What do televisions, LED light bulbs, wind turbines and mobile phones have in common? They all contain ‘rare earth metals’ . There are 17 of these metals, small amounts of which are found in the Earth’s crust [1,4].
Rare earth metals are very useful: some are essential components of high-tech products that are needed for tackling climate change, such as lithium for electric car batteries and dysprosium for wind turbines [1,4].
It is becoming more difficult to mine enough of these metals to meet the growing demand [1,4]. This is partly because China produces about 90% of all rare earth metals; because of increasingly tight export limits from China, the rest of the world is faced with a supply risk . With increasing demand, the problem is made even worse. For example, it’s predicted that demand for dysprosium will be 2600% higher in 2035 than it was in 2010 . Whilst scientists are researching alternative materials, in the meantime there is pressure to fill the gap .
Recycling rare earth metals may be the answer! It’s estimated that the world generates 20-50 million tonnes of electric waste (e-waste) each year . Whilst much of it goes to landfill, in developing countries it is often burnt or dumped on open-land or in rivers [2,3]. Both this poor disposal and the mining of the metals have serious negative effects on the environment and workers [2,4]. For example, it’s thought that about 50 thousand children are involved in informal e-waste collection and recycling, exposing them to toxic materials leading to long-term illness and deaths .
If the rare earth metals are recycled properly, this could prevent us from running out of these precious resources and help the environment and people [1,2]. But recycling rare earth metals is not easy . We’ll look into how it can be done in the next post!
 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1674987119300258 See: Abstract, Introduction, Distribution of REE in the Earths crust and mineralogy, Recycling
 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652614010683#bib6 See: ‘Historically, e-waste has been treated or disposed of by landfill, in some developed countries, or by informal incineration in some developing countries’
 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0734242X12453378?casa_token=NnMTAvnp970AAAAA%3AGXCvDcwCUjiP_QuOhLkwamiVXqMUan8mTwGRGVTm508sdRy9_VosQOS8bgnxoTJ9ofOtIaT6bPU See: Abstract, Environmental and health impacts of e-waste management in Asian countries, Issues and challenges for ESM of e-waste
 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652612006932 See: Abstract, Introduction
 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es203518d See: Abstract
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