* Recycling rates for some metals under 1 pct, panel says
* Panel urges increasing use of existing metals stocks
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 Recycling rates for many
specialty metals used in high-tech devices are so low -- often
less than 1 percent -- that they may become unavailable in two
to three decades, a U.N.-appointed panel said on Thursday.
The figure was disclosed as the U.N. Environmental Program
(UNEP) began issuing a series of reports on metals, designed to
encourage more recycling of existing metal stocks rather than
depending on fresh mining for ores.
Thomas Graedel, a member of the International Panel for
Sustainable Resource Management set up by UNEP, said that
without recycling the increasing use of specialty metals by the
electronics industry would strain their availability.
At a U.N. news conference, he cited the case of indium,
used in liquid crystal display glass, semiconductors,
photovoltaic cells and other products. Demand for the metal is
set to grow from 1,200 tons this year to 2,600 tons in 2020.
"Currently we think that recycling rates for indium are
below one percent. We think that's the case for almost all the
specialty metals," said Graedel, a professor of industrial
ecology at Yale University.
He said that while he was not predicting the materials
would run out altogether, "we do think there is a reasonable
prospect that over the next two or three decades some materials
may be in short enough supply so that they will become
essentially unavailable as routine materials for industry.
Prices for such metals could in turn rise, changing the way
they were typically used, said Graedel in releasing preliminary
findings of a report the panel plans to publish in full in
Other metals whose recycling rates the panel said needed to
be improved included neodymium, used in wind turbine magnets,
and gallium, used for light emitting diodes in indicator lamps
Graedel cited information from microchip maker Intel Corp.
(INTC.O) that the number of elements it used for computers rose
from 11 in the 1980s to around 60 now, indicating that it would
be hard to maintain current levels of computer performance if
newer specialty metals became unavailable.
He suggested that one reason for the poor recycling rates
was the very small quantities of the metals used in each
device, making recovery uneconomic. But better design could
make the metals easier to recycle, he said.
In a separate report, the U.N. panel detailed what it said
was a substantial shift in metals stocks from underground ores
to existing products. "These 'mines above ground' have growing
potential for future metals supply," it said.
Above-ground copper amounts to about 50 kg (112 pounds) for
every person on earth, compared with more than two tons of
iron, the panel said. The recycling rate for steel is about 75
percent but for copper between 25 and 50 percent, it found.
UNEP chief Achim Steiner told the news conference the
rising cost of polluting could force companies to recycle more
metals. Greenhouse gas emissions from recycling aluminum, for
instance, are 12 times lower than primary production, the panel
(Editing by Paul Simao)