UNEP: recycling rates often below 1%

22 Nov 2011

According to this UNEP report, recycling rates of metals are far below their potential. UNEP studied the recycling rate of 60 metals and over half of the metals has a recycling rate below 1%.  However, many of these metals are crucial to clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars and  wind turbines.

‘In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low, and a ‘recycling society’ appears no more than a distant hope. The weak performance is especially frustrating because, unlike some other resources, metals are ‘inherently recyclable’’ says the study.

Recycling metals is between two and 10 times more energy efficient than smelting the metals from virgin ores. Meanwhile, the extraction of metals currently accounts for 7% of the world’s energy consumption, with emissions contributing significantly to climate change.

‘In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental degradation. Raising levels of recycling world-wide can therefore contribute to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy while assisting to generate ‘green jobs’,’ said UN under Secretary-General and UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The full report can be found here (pdf).


UNEP (2011) Recycling rates of metals. A status report. A report of the Working Group on the Global Metal Flows to the International Resource Panel. Graedel T. E. et al.