The United Nations Environment Program said that the world would not have to dig so much metal out of the ground if it strongly embraced recycling, which could be higher.
Dr Thomas Graedel, a professor at Yale University and one of the authors of a report on metals recycling rates at a briefing, said that smarter product designs and support for developing country waste management schemes would encourage recycling.
He added that "Encouraging developed country households not to squirrel away old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help. Recycling rates of metals are in many cases far lower than their potential re use. Ideally metals can be used over and over again. Do we have to keep digging it out of the ground?" Less than one third of some 60 metals studied by the program have an end of life recycling rate above 50%."
The report states 34 elements have recycling rates below 1%, many of these are crucial for clean technologies such as batteries for hybrid cars to magnets in wind turbines. It added that "In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low. The weak performance is especially frustrating because unlike some other resources, metals are inherently recyclable."
Recycling more would minimize the need to mine and process ore, which would save large amounts of energy and water.
The report said that "That would contribute to a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy."
It added that extracting ore currently accounts for 7% of the world's energy consumption. "Indeed, by some estimates recycling metals is between two and 10 times more efficient than smelting the metal from virgin ores."