The International Council on Mining and Metals has recently published a declaration on recycling principles aimed at encouraging product policy-makers, designers and manufacturers to adopt life cycle thinking when developing metals recycling policies.
Metals are chemical elements and therefore can be recycled infinitely with no inherent degradation of properties. Commonly today the content of recycled metals and alloys in products is used as a driver for increasing recycling rates and an indicator of environmental performance. However this approach is too simplistic and could encourage in-efficiency in the production and use of recycled metals, according to a broad coalition of 18 metal industry associations including the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM).
The industry coalition believes the objective should be to promote eco-efficiency in metals use, that is to minimize negative environmental impacts whilst maximizing the economic benefits to society.
The Declaration argues that specifying a minimum or target level of recycled material content in a product ignores the environmental costs and benefits associated with achieving this goal. Indeed attainment of the goal may lead to an increase in economic and environmental costs when for example metal available for recycling is diverted to the manufacture of a particular product away from one where the recycling loop is more economical or environmentally efficient.
The Declaration states that a life cycle approach which considers the material flows at the end of the product life, enabling accurate assessment of the environmental and economic implications of any intervention aimed at increasing recycling is preferable. This approach helps decision-makers identify in-efficiencies and associated environmental impacts and optimize product recovery and material recyclability.
In welcoming the Declaration ICMM President Paul Mitchell said, “Encouraging policy makers and product designers to adopt life cycle thinking when planning for materials recycling in a product system will promote a reduction in the overall environmental impacts of metal-based products.”
The Declaration is a consequence of metal producing companies extending their interest beyond the plant gate to a consideration of the whole life cycle of their materials. This focus on materials stewardship is in the interests of environmental and economic efficiency, achieving regulatory compliance and enhancing reputation through responsible behaviour.