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The European Commission is in the process of preparing a report on critical raw materials in the circular economy.This was one of the issues identified in EASAC’s earlier commentary on the implications of natural and social sciences for the circular economy, and this report follows up the issue in more detail.
This report reviews briefly the historical criteria for critical raw materials currently under review by the Commission and the Joint Research Centre (JRC), and notes that many critical materials still have very low recycling rates which increases the demand for virgin materials and therefore reduces lifetime of supply. EASAC is in broad agreement with the criteria that the Commission proposes to apply in selecting critical materials for the new list in 2017 but notes that environmental impacts of extraction of raw materials are substantial and should be considered in the criticality assessment. EASAC recognises limitations on available data that would allow the Commission to measure environmental impacts and risks related to extraction and processing, but encourages the Commission to continue work on developing a methodology to consider environmental and social considerations outside the European Union (EU). The report compares the energy and water consumption requirements for production of metals from primary ores with those for recycling, and shows the major reductions in environmental impact that can be achieved through increased recycling.