Surprise! I am at my desk and your email asking me about an eventual independent “peer review” on the current state of science and accomplishment under the heading of Circular Economy arrived moments ago and is staring at me. In fact I was at a conference on just this topic in another country, which was OK, except that I could have given virtually all the talks myself.
I didn’t learn very much, which was disappointing. Waste of time, except it got me thinking more about one aspect of the circularity problem. In brief, most of the elements in the periodic table are now “in play”, and most of them are really “hitch-hikers” obtained from the ores of major industrial metals (copper, zinc, aluminum etc.).
Where a market exists now, the refiners take the trouble to extract the rare metals such as gallium, Indium, rhenium, tantalum and tellurium. But — based on feedback from metals companies at a meeting at the EEC a couple of years ago — it seems that the current uses are not great enough to justify large investments in recovery. So, most of those metals are still left in the mine waste. The same is true for recycling.
Products are not (yet) designed for easy recycling, so most of the rare metals are not recycled, though they could be. The only solution to this problem as far as I can see is to create a “rare metals bank”, like an international version of Fort Knox — that buys rare metals at the full cost (or a bit more) of recovery and recycling, and puts them away.
This would start raising market prices immediately, of course, and current users would be forced to pay more, but it would slow down the waste dramatically. Then in ten or twenty years, that metals bank could become the supplier of last resort, and it might even start “renting” the metals, rather than selling them.
This — in my opinion — is the ultimate “circular solution” (and a way to stop silly projects for asteroid mining).
Oh, and by the way, what a great use for Apple’s $250 billion now sitting in foreign banks, doing nothing. If Apple would use its money to buy metals for future use (some, in future i-Phones) it was also employ quite a lot of people around the world, including the US.
More will surely follow.
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