The EU Urban Mine


Every urban environment is filled with metals which have the potential to be recycled, again and again, keeping their value in the European economy.

A lot has already been achieved as the rollovers reveal, but circular management is not yet a reality for some metals or their products. Too many are being lost to landfills and incineration, or exported outside of Europe. We can do a lot more to ensure that our metals are recycled effectively.

More than 95% of the metals used in buildings are recycled

99% of lead-based batteries are recycled from European cars

71% of nickel-containing stainless steel is recycled

90% of aluminium is recycled from cars and trucks, and 60% from packaging

In Western Europe, 90% of rolled zinc is recovered at end of useful life

Up to 90% of all copper in European buildings and civil infrastructure is recycled

Case Study: Europe's e-waste potential

How much thought have you given to the life of your electronics or electrical equipment once you are finished with them?

All are filled with valuable metals which EU companies are equipped to recover and put back into the European economy. And yet two thirds of European e-waste is not properly treated and reported, meaning that approximately


of materials are lost annually1. This untapped recycling potential is a big opportunity.

Looking inside your phone

Let's use your mobile phone as an example. Ever looked inside? There are over 40 metals - from the aluminium casing and copper wiring, to the small but indispensable amounts of precious and technology metals, vital for various functions.

Antimony is used in flame retardants

Copper is required for electronic circuitry, and tin is used for soldering.

The battery includes cobalt, lithium and other metals.

Your screen is touch sensitive due to indium-tin oxide.

Gold, silver and palladium are used for microelectric components.

Aluminium and nickel are used in metal frames.

As long as high enough volumes of mobile phones and other e-waste are accumulated, European metals recyclers can extract and recycle these and other metals. This depends on efficiency throughout the entire value chain.

How much metal is in your phone?

A single mobile phone only contains up to €1 of metal, as well as plastics and other materials2. But what about adding all of Europe's phones together?

Well, from the 174 million mobile phones shipped in Western Europe during 20133, there would be potential for recovering:

Plus, many other valuable and critical metals could be recovered4. And quality recycling also allows us to ensure the safe treatment of hazardous substances.

How many phones do we recycle in Europe?


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In Europe, that's equivalent to 160 million discarded and uncollected devices. This represents an annual material loss of up to


Adding that back together with our other e-waste, total material losses are much higher6.

What else happens to our e-waste?


In Europe, over 750,000 tonnes of e-waste ends up in waste bins annually, with potentially negative impacts on the environment.7


2.2m tonnes of the e-waste stream is mixed and recycled together with metal scrap, thus recycled outside the official take-back systems.


An estimated 1.5m tonnes of e-waste is shipped out of Europe each year; much of it falsely classified as "used goods", without guarantee of quality treatment.8


In a recent survey, 40% of consumers stored their old mobile phone away, rather than considering its disposal or recycling.

But what should happen to our e-waste?

Proper end-of-life treatment of e-waste is not the effort of one actor, but a collaborative process along the recycling value chain. What does that mean for your e-waste?


In Europe, e-waste collection is undertaken by various actors, including municipalities, scrap yards, retailers or waste management companies.

The EU has targeted an 85% collection rate for all generated e-waste by 2019. Producers or importers of devices have a responsibility to help ensure their collection, for example through participation in collective take-back systems.

Collected e-waste is then either transferred to the next stage of recycling, or refurbished for second-hand reuse.


After collection, e-waste is sorted, dismantled and/or mechanically treated, to liberate their materials for final treatment processes.

Batteries are removed from mobile devices, while for PCs, casing and circuit boards are separated in specialised processes.

Expert sorting and separation of e-waste is crucial, leading to safe treatment of hazardous substances, and isolation of valuable materials fractions for further processing.


Recovering metals from e-waste fractions isn't a simple process, due to the complex mix of materials, the presence of hazardous substances, and the small quantities of certain metals.

To avoid environmental damage and material losses, pre-processed fractions must be transferred to state of the art metallurgical facilties, for smelting and refining.

Over 20 different metals can then be recovered in an environmentally-sound way, with high levels of technical efficiency.

A voluntary WEEE end-process standard has been developed by European industry to certify when these quality standards have been reached.

So what do we ask?

Sitting at end of the recycling value chain, we're an integral part of the circular management of metals in Europe, and are constantly innovating to maximize our efficiency.

But policy actions are also needed to improve the circular management of e-waste and other metals-bearing products:

Maximise Collection Get To the Metal Suppress Illegality Raise the bar Focus on value

A golden opportunity

By taking these steps together, not only can we make sure our e-waste is recycled safely, we can also keep the values of their metals within the circular economy. And these actions are not just relevant for e-waste, but for all metals-bearing products - from your beverage can to your car.

Feel free to use your mobile phone to tell someone about it!