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ENDS Europe Daily: Europe risks shortage of 14 critical raw materials

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Fourteen critical raw materials used for high tech products such as mobile phones, laptop computers and clean technologies are in danger of shortage, the European Commission has said. It called for increased recycling of products containing these materials.

A report unveiled on Thursday at a minerals conference in Madrid lists these materials, which include cobalt, gallium, indium and magnesium. They are increasingly used for 'emerging technologies' but are mined in only a few of countries such as China and Russia.

These countries could either manipulate the supply of these critical materials or take environmental action that may jeopardise EU imports, it adds. Demand from emerging technologies is expected to increase significantly by 2030, according to estimates. For example, the commission predicts a 716% increase for indium.

Increasing the recycling of these materials would help ensure a stable supply, according to the report. It calls for more action to prevent illegal waste exports, more research on how to recycle technically-challenging products, and improving collection.

The report is one step towards implementing the 2008 EU raw materials initiative. It will be used to draft a European Commission policy paper on access to raw materials due in the autumn. This paper may outline more detailed policy options on recycling.

A second report was also presented in Madrid, outlining options for improving rules related to minerals extraction and access to land, and better geological knowledge sharing. These are two of ten actions foreseen in the raw materials initiative.

The report does not recommend EU-wide prescriptive measures for mineral planning policy, noting the diversity of geological circumstances. Instead, it suggests that member states develop national minerals policies. Such policies should describe specifically the ways future minerals supply will be secured.

They should be based on the principles of sustainable development and incorporate economic, environmental and social requirements, the authors recommend. National policies should also include codes of practice to ensure protection of the environment.

In May, a UN report showed that only 1% of specialty metals used in electronic products are recycled worldwide, compared with 50% for common metals such as steel. The report also showed that the use of these metals has skyrocketed over the past two decades.

Follow-up:
European Commission press release and memo. The reports will be published on the commission's raw materials webpage on 18 June.