Britain will map flows of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the hope of encouraging companies to capture more rare earth metals. It also plans to fund demonstration projects and will consider changing its WEEE regime.
The plans are contained in a new strategy on resource security, which was published by the UK environment department (DEFRA) on Friday. They were drawn up with the help of industry, which is increasingly concerned about rising resource prices and the concentration of important rare earth metals in a handful of countries.
One solution is to ensure that materials from old equipment are captured more effectively. DEFRA also believes that the UK's WEEE regime could be changed to make firms individually responsible for recycling the goods they make.
At the moment, firms sign up to schemes that collect WEEE from a range of sources on their behalf. This gives them little incentive to increase the recyclability of their products.
Better capture of scarce metals is a business opportunity, says DEFRA. Between now and 2020, the UK will throw away about three million tonnes of electrical equipment containing 63 tonnes of palladium – worth £1bn in today's prices – and £380m worth of iridium.
On Tuesday, the EU joined Japan and the US in challenging China's export restrictions on rare earth metals. China has about a third of the world's rare earths.