Recovery of Rare Earth Elements – let’s protect our environment
On 23th and 24th November 2022, Diskus Polska / ProDevice had the pleasure of taking part in the first consortium meeting summarising 6 months of work within the EU-funded REEPRODUCE* project. The meeting took place at CEIT, the Technological Campus of the University of Navarra (San Sebastian, Spain). During the meeting, Tomasz Filipów (CEO of DISKUS Polska / ProDevice) presented the most important information on effective methods of removing data from data carriers.
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the European Union (EU). As result of its inefficient management, the WEEE could cause serious environmental and health problems. In this context, the production of modern electronics devices requires the use of scarce and expensive resources, such as the well-known Rare Earth Elements (REEs).
Nowadays Europe depends mainly on imports of Permanent Magnets (PMs) as well as the REEs found in the composition of these devices, and there are no market-ready substitutes. In this frame, their recycling process brings obvious benefits: since it is an opportunity to become independent of third countries on REEs and at the same time to support the idea of a circular economy in which all waste material is reused.
The first documented patent for the creation of a paper shredding device was issued in August 1909 in the United States. The waste generated by the paper shredder was and is 100% recyclable, Nevertheless the current situation with electronic media is totally different.
Many companies still believe that the best way to remove data from media is to physically destroy them. But evidence shows the opposite: the data can be recovered in a specialised laboratory. Although this procedure seems complicated, it may be feasible to some extent. It is worth noting that the recovery of both REE and electronic parts from physically damaged data media is significantly difficult.
According to the National Security Agency (NSA)**, demagnetisation is a recommended method for irreversible and safe data removal from magnetic media (e.g. a degaussed disk no longer requires physical destruction). This method is used not only by smaller or larger companies, but also uniformed services and space agencies around the world. The strength of the magnetic field generated by the degausser permanently removes the data and it is not possible to recover it even in specialised laboratories. Importantly, degaussing process does not damage the physical structure of the carrier, only servo paths. Thus, this is why recovering valuable REEs or electronics in this case is much easier.
That said, to support the development of modern REEs recovery technologies from hard drives, regulatory changes in the data disposal market are necessary. The approach of the entire IT industry to issues related to irreversible data deletion is also important. Demagnetisation is definitely a more effective way of deleting data than physical destruction of carriers. It is also a responsible and wise approach to global environmental protection.
Together we are stronger!
*DISKUS Polska (ProDevice) is a partner in the EU-funded REEPRODUCE project: “Dismantling and recovery of Rare Earth Elements from End-of-life products for the European Green Transition”. This project received funding from the European Union, through its research and innovation programme – Horizon Europe, under grant agreement No 101057733.
Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Health and Digital Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.