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Sustainability and Second Life: The case for cobalt and lithium recycling

Adopting recycling in the mining sector and in supply chains is essential to ensure the transition to a low-carbon economy is responsible and sustainable for the longer term.

Key Messages

  • Interest in renewable technologies (such as electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines) has increased demand for cobalt and lithium. However, global supplies of both minerals are not projected to meet demand, with research forecasting shortfalls in the coming decade.
  • Extracting cobalt and lithium from old products and infrastructure is essential to heading off predicted metal shortfalls, empowering clean energy transitions and reducing risk of human exploitation.

Interest in renewable technologies (such as electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines) has increased demand for cobalt and lithium.

However, global supplies of both minerals are not projected to meet demand, with research forecasting shortfalls in the coming decade.

Lithium and cobalt recycling, conducted in a responsible and transparent way, could help head off metal shortfalls while reducing pressure on mining communities vulnerable to exploitation. However, recycling rates remain low due to a lack of transparency in recycling supply chains; manufacturers purchasing substitute minerals due to high prices for raw cobalt and lithium; and inefficient collection of cobalt and lithium from existing infrastructure, to name a few.

Sustainability and Second Life: The Case for Cobalt and Lithium Recycling’s recommendations include:

  • Increased transparency and responsible sourcing along primary and recycling supply chains
  • Enhancing the eco-design of products containing lithium and cobalt
  • Raising consumer awareness regarding current collection and recycling schemes
  • New or revised investments to improve collection infrastructure, technology development and knowledge creation
  • Clearly designating the actors responsible and liable for recycling materials