Strategically important metals - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) (SIM 22)

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is the leading organisation of its kind in the world for professionals in property, construction, land and related environmental issues. As an independent and chartered organisation, RICS regulates and maintains the professional standards of over 91,000 qualified members (FRICS, MRICS and AssocRICS) and over 50,000 trainee and student members. It regulates and promotes the work of these property professionals throughout 146 countries and is governed by a Royal Charter approved by Parliament which requires it to act in the public interest.

RICS is grateful to the Committee for agreeing to consider its written evidence at this late stage. Given the time constraints, the evidence set out below is brief, but RICS would be happy to expand.

RICS maintains that while Rare Earth Elements are being discarded from obsolete technologies virgin material should not be harvested. RICS supports a comprehensive recycling programme to meet demand and safeguard the future of renewable energy.

Key Points:

  • Many of the technologies involved in the green schemes encouraged by Government depend on rare earth metals.
  • Rare earth metals may become more difficult to obtain as the country that dominates the market, China, is introducing a policy of restricting production and exports via a system of tariffs and quotas.
  • Scarcity of resources is one problem, the association of mining with environmental degradation is another limiting factor.
  • Saving the planet through alternative green economies and technologies calls for more access to rare earth metals which in turn could mean more damage to the landscape, more environmental degradation and more loss of wildlife habitats.
  • Evidence from the UN suggests that recycling rare earth metals is twice as energy efficient as extracting metals from virgin ores (and in some circumstances ten times more efficient). It may also go some way to keep metal prices down and generate new employment.
  • Abundant quantities of rare earth metals exist "above ground" in the form of obsolete consumer technology, with an estimated 30 million computers and laptops containing these metals currently lying unused in the UK.
  • RICS maintains that there is an opportunity to harvest rare earth metals present in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE). All items under the Directive could be assessed for the presence of these metals and where present should be recovered and returned to the production process. This would require stricter enforcement of the Directive.
  • Efficient recovery and re-use of rare earth metals needs to be promoted particularly as the metals are used as a foundation material of most renewable energy technologies.

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

28 February 2011

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