Social behavior and existing technologies presently stand in the way of this
As we have previously pointed out, recycling specialty metals in general, and rare earth metals in particular, is an ever more pressing issue, and scientists working with the University of Yale have recently decided to also get involved in this matter.Thus, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies has just released a report stating that, although it may prove to be a bit of a headache, researchers must work towards developing means of efficiently reusing specialty metals.
The specialists who have decided to tackle this issue agree that, for the most part, recycling rare earth metals and the like can be a rather tricky business.
This is because these materials are often used in developing various consumer goods such as high-strength magnets, solar cells and computer chips, and existing technologies simply do not allow workers to properly separate them from the rest of the product.
Commenting on this situation, researchers Thomas Graedel and Clifton R. Musser made a case of how, “Specialty metals are used in products in only small amounts, but their value typically does not provide enough incentive to invest in a complicated recovery process. Also, the technology to do so is untested.”
One other scientist, Barbara Reck, wished to emphasize the fact that, “Metals are infinitely recyclable in principle, but, in practice, recycling is often inefficient or essentially nonexistent because of limits imposed by social behavior, product design, recycling technologies and the thermodynamics of separation.”
Still, as this group of Yale researchers explains, it may be true that recycling specialty metals could prove to be a rather costly and time-consuming operation, yet going through the trouble of extracting such materials from various mining sites only to throw them away after just one use hardly seems worth the trouble either.
Related energy and money costs aside, the fact that specialty and rare earth metals have yet to enter proper management programs is indeed a matter of concern.
More so since developing industries require the use of ever-increasing amounts of these resources but fail to keep a close eye on what happens once the products containing them are discarded by their owners.