‘Urban mining’ to ramp up recovery of rare metals like lithium, cobalt from discarded electronics

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A man looks at discarded electronic devices, including mobile phones, personal computers, printers, game consoles and microwave ovens, in Ota Ward, Tokyo, in January 2016.

The Environment Ministry plans to double the amount of metal recycled from discarded electronic devices, known as urban mines, by fiscal 2030.

The ministry plans to increase the amount of devices accepted by urban mines and to use the metals recovered for electric vehicles, wind power equipment and solar power devices to realize a decarbonizing society.

The targets include such rare metals as lithium, nickel and cobalt as well as copper and zinc. Japan relies on imports for most of these metals but they are abundant in items such as electric circuit boards in mobile phones and personal computers. Therefore, the ministry seeks to secure and utilize these limited resources by recovering the metals from discarded circuit boards and other items.

Specifically, next fiscal year the ministry will gear up overseas procurement of discarded items like electric circuit boards, as imports of such items have been low until now.

In Asian countries undergoing remarkable economic development, pollution caused by more and more discarded electrical devices is becoming a serious problem. The ministry will try to secure procurement channels in cooperation with the governments of countries that lack recycling technology.

The ministry also provides financial and other support to domestic recycling companies for the development of equipment to crush circuit boards and other materials to recover the metals in them, as well as to improve their processing capacity.

The ministry will soon formulate a “road map for a recycling-based economy” to realize a society that reuses resources instead of discarding them.

In the road map, the ministry will set forth a target of about 420,000 tons of circuit boards being sent to refining facilities to extract metals in fiscal 2030, compared to about 210,000 tons in fiscal 2020. The ministry plans to earmark more than ¥1 billion for related expenses in its fiscal 2023 budget requests.