Veolia Environnement SA is sweeping Britain’s streets for the platinum and other precious metals that can be sifted from the grime.
The French waste and water company built a factory at Ling Hall in Warwickshire to extract rare metals blown out of vehicle exhaust filters and onto roads and sidewalks. It stumbled upon this “urban mining” after sorting refuse to try to reduce waste sent to landfills, Estelle Brachlianoff, U.K. and Ireland executive vice-president, said yesterday in Paris.
“We’re in talks to see whether we can develop this business in London and other parts of the U.K.,” she said. “It’s worthwhile in countries where landfill is expensive.”
The technique, which also extracts palladium and rhodium used in the catalytic converters attached to exhausts, is part of a push to double sales from recycling to 5 billion euros ($6 billion) in five years. Veolia plans, with projects like the U.K. operation, to find new ways to recycle the millions of tons of garbage it collects each year.
In addition, Chief Executive Officer Antoine Frerot seeks to cut debt, boost profit from municipal contracts and move into markets like water treatment for mining, oil and food companies. The world market for recycling and reusing waste is seen growing by about 10 percent a year to about 30 billion to 40 billion euros in 2020, Frerot told journalists yesterday.
Platinum, palladium and rhodium supplies have fallen short of demand after strikes in South Africa and increased use in catalytic converters that capture emissions from vehicles.
Veolia reckons about 1.5 metric tons of platinum, 1.3 tons of palladium and 800 kilograms (1,800 pounds) of rhodium could be recovered each year from U.K. streets. That would currently be valued at about $123 million, Bloomberg calculations show.
The Warwickshire operation now nets about 100,000 pounds ($160,000) a year, which means Veolia is able to charge less for its street-cleaning services, according to Brachlianoff.
About 10 lentil-sized palladium pellets recovered over about a week at the plant, which may be replicated in France and elsewhere in the U.K., are worth about 400 pounds, she said.