The prosperity of European citizens is based on a relentless flow of raw materials which, to an overwhelming extent, are imported from other continents. Modern free trade and the peaceful relationship that the EU has established with countries all over the world, have so far secured the import of these vital resources with no particular problems. However, resource dependent countries are aware that reliable fluxes of raw materials are not granted forever due to several factors such as the concentration of most resources in a relatively small number of countries, the periodic occurrence of trade tensions and, more remarkably, a constant rise in demand for virtually all raw materials in an increasingly affluent and populated world. Some chemical elements and materials are vital for the modern economy, for the promotion of more sustainable industrial models and also for feeding and curing people. Among many examples we can mention lithium and cobalt as key elements to manufacture batteries and promote electric mobility; indium, tantalum and rare earths for electronic devices and information technologies; helium as an indispensable element in cryogenic applications including medical diagnostics; phosphorus as an essential ingredient for fertilisers which enable modern agriculture.
Due to massive use and projected demand, these and other elements are already at risk of physical availability by the end of the present century and possibly earlier. Therefore, the time is now to take strategic decisions for their rational use, disposal and preservation in the frame of a circular economy. There is no other route to preserving endangered elements than efficient use, extensive recycling, and more sustainable lifestyles promoted by scientifically grounded information at all levels of society.
To reach these objectives it is necessary to
- promote more stringent and effective legislation at the European level on waste collection, treatment and recovery;
- support cooperation among industry and academia to make substantial progress in the science and technology of element recovery in end-of-life devices;
- expand the information provided to consumers on the content of any commercial item, in order to facilitate society awareness and make disassembling and recycling routine.
The objectives of the workshop
- open discussion on critical raw materials for the EU economy involving all stakeholders;
- present the scientific basis to foster stronger policies for the protection of endangered elements in the EU;
- european Commission’s Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials and a foresight study;
- critical Raw Materials and Horizon Europe;
- highlight the need to widen educational efforts at all levels of society to raise awareness on the limits of material resources and the need to implement a circular economy.
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