April 2019: The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) released a report titled, ‘Sustainability and Second Life: The Case for Cobalt and Lithium Recycling.’ The report calls for adopting recycling in the mining sector and in supply chains to ensure a responsible and sustainable transition to a low-carbon economy and to advance several SDGs.

The report, co-authored by Clare Church and Laurin Wuennenberg, recognizes the value of increased mineral recycling in contributing to the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including SDGs 7 (affordable and clean energy), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), 12 (responsible consumption and production), 13 (climate action) and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

According to the authors, the demand for cobalt and lithium – minerals used in renewable technologies such as electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines – is predicted to increase substantially. They examine barriers to lithium and cobalt recycling, and identify opportunities and solutions along the primary and recycling supply chains for both minerals.

The report finds, inter alia, that: increased mineral recycling could fulfill some of the goals of a circular economy by reducing reliance on finite resources and mitigating permanent waste disposal; many of the barriers to cobalt and lithium recycling originate in the primary supply chain; challenges may include conflict or corruption at extraction sites; current collection services and infrastructure may be out of date or inadequate to meet the possible supply; and lithium-ion battery recycling processes on the market today do not recover the lithium.

The publication concludes that increased collaboration is required between the public sector, private actors and civil society to overcome market and regulatory barriers. It notes that efforts should be made by the public sector to develop and understand applicable definitions of recycling and other secondary processes. [Publication: Sustainability and Second Life: The Case for Cobalt and Lithium Recycling] [IISD Interactive Website on Publication] [Publication Landing Page]