The government is hoping that recycling rare earth materials could protect businesses in the UK from being buffeted by rising costs.
Against a backdrop of EU and US appeals to the World Trade Organisation regarding China’s relative monopoly over the valuable minerals, the government has launched an initiative to bolster security against fluctuating prices.
With China producing the vast majority of rare earths, UK businesses can feel the force of high demand.
In order to tackle this, the Resource Security Action Plan seeks to ensure that rare earths that do enter the UK supply chain, often through consumer electronics, are recycled more effectively.
It is expected that there will be aroud 12 million tonnes of electrical equipment to be dumped in the UK by 2020, much of it coming from PCs and laptops. Within this mountain of binned electronics the government sees a treasure trove of rare earth materials that could offer protection from fluctuating prices.
Part of the problem is a ”lack of readily available information about resource risks which may affect UK businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises”.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) says that there is not a particular fear that we will run out of rare earth materials anytime soon, but the problem of access, as production slowly moves away from China, remains a concern.
The plan proposes the launch of a "dashboard" to ensure that smaller businesses are aware of supply problems.
The government will also look to support innovative approaches to recycling rare earths, with a £200,000 fund on offer to support efforts by businesses.
DEFRA believes that there are potentially substantial financial benefits to be had in creating businesses which recycle rare earth materials. It will be working with groups such as the Technology Strategy Board to look at opportunities.