China cracks down on rare earth recycling

China cracks down on rare earth recycling

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

China has begun an enforcement action to crack down on the unauthorized mining, selling and recycling of rare earth metals. The effort is scheduled to run from August 15 to November 15.

According to China Daily, illegal rare earth ore production in China – the world's top producer of the materials – grew to 40,000 tons in 2012, with government officials seizing 14 illegal shipments between 2011 and 2012, as well as closing 14 illegal mines. Exports from the country steadily declined between 2009 and 2012, but despite setting 2013 production quotas that are half of 2012 levels, rare earth metal exports have surged in 2013 and are up 600 percent year-over-year.

The new regulations will impose tougher penalties for unauthorized virgin ore production, increase inspections and place new reporting requirements on used electronics destined for rare earth metal recovery through smelting.

While China controls approximately 23 percent of the world's rare earth metal reserves, which are critical to the production of batteries, magnets, integrated circuits and numerous other products, it is responsible for approximately 95 percent of global output. Beginning in 2009, the country began to limit rare earth output to both regulate its long-term supply of the resources, as well as drive up the price for Chinese producers.

The plan seems to have backfired, however, with total YOY profits for Chinese rare earth producers down 32 percent in 2013 and the country's share of global output projected to decline to 73 percent by 2015. Japan, the U.S. and the European Union have all announced new rare earth production ventures that include virgin sources, as well as recycling methods. One major example is the recently-announced $120 million investment by the U.S. Department of Energy to study rare earth recovery processes at the Ames National Lab in Iowa.

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