Magnesium: Just how much is recycled?

The International Magnesium Association appointed Oakdene Hollins to investigate flows of magnesium in Europe and to estimate the implied recycling rate. The report is published today along with a press release.

The context for the study is the increasing interest from policy makers in measuring material resource efficiency, especially for those on a list of critically important materials. Materials are mined, widely distributed in products and then lost in waste management systems. What was once a concentrated deposit in the earth’s crust becomes so widely distributed it is inaccessible. Is this process an inevitable outcome, one merely consistent with the second law of thermodynamics (entropy increases with time) or might some materials be directed through more efficient pathways?

Too often, there is insufficient data on the amount of material that is mined, how it is applied and how much is subsequently captured in recycling systems to begin to answer this question.

Our own view on the direction of travel is that companies and policy makers will accelerate efforts to reduce the mining of some materials. For example, the decision by Apple to reduce the loss of rare earths when Apple products are fragmented and melted for recycling at their end of life is worthy of note. By instead reusing and remanufacturing components in their products, Apple has demonstrated what thoughtful corporate commitment looks like in this area. The rare earths are alloyed and lost in recycling systems since their economic value is so low compared to their functional value, and merely reporting the recycling rate for phones and iPads and expecting a cheer from society is not enough any longer.

We expect to see more announcements like this especially in the electric and digitised vehicles area. But in the meantime policy makers seem concerned about the pace of change, as it is driven only by corporate responsibility and some necessary - but yet barely adequate - wastes management regulations.

We are glad to have worked with the IMA, and as always we welcome appraisal of our methodology. Please direct comments to Katie Baker.

You can read the IMA report here.