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Germany’s Altmaier Wants Rare-Earths Recycling to Reduce Imports

Germany wants companies to harvest metals including rare earths from recycled electronics as Europe’s biggest economy seeks to become less dependent on imports from China and other nations.

Germany could significantly reduce rare earth imports if companies would recycle products such as mobile phones and computer hard drives, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said.

“We want to sensitize the economic players to that,” Altmaier said yesterday on the sidelines of a meeting by the UN-administered International Resource Panel in Berlin. Germany has a target to double the efficiency with which it uses resources by 2020 from 1994 levels, he said.

Germany is at the forefront of efforts in Europe, the U.S. and Japan to diversify sourcing of rare-earth elements used in everything from wind turbines and flat-screen TVs to weapons systems after China, the biggest supplier, announced in 2010 it would limit production.

Demand for some Chinese rare earths has declined recently as companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. recycle the metals and employ substitutes. In November, Japan, the world’s biggest importer of rare earths, signed an agreement to buy more of the metals from India to diversify supply.

While companies are already recycling some electronics, they’re mainly targeting gold, ignoring other potentially valuable metals, which are lost in the process, Altmaier said.

“We are throwing away 99 percent of the rare earths we’re using,” Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, the UN panel’s co-chair, said at the same press conference.

Altmaier said he wants closer international cooperation on resources, urging the creation of “an adequate framework” to hold regular talks on the issue.

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