MPs call for action on strategically important metals

17 May 2011

The Science and Technology Committee publishes its report on strategically important metals in which it warns of the knock on effect of a 'perception of scarcity', the risk of market distortion from national monopolies, and environmental damage caused by waste exports to developing countries. It also calls for more recycling.

'Perception of scarcity'

Although most strategic metal reserves are unlikely to run out over the coming decades, the Committee says that the perception of scarcity of certain minerals and metals may lead to increased speculation and volatility in price and supply.

Strategically important metals are vital to advanced manufacturing, low-carbon technologies and other growing industries and the Government should provide reliable information on potential resource risks in a coordinated and coherent way – something which at present may be lacking.

Supplies to sectors of the UK economy that rely on a wide range of metals at stable prices is a concern. Export quotas on rare earth elements, recently imposed by China, as well as reports of hedge funds buying up significant quantities of strategic metals, could distort the market and the Committee calls on the Government to investigate.

Social and environmental impacts

Evidence was given to the Committee that the UK exports large quantities of scrap metal and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), often to developing countries. This metal not only is a potential resource for the UK – making export ‘nonsensical’ – but it is also an example of the UK exporting its environmental problems elsewhere.

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"The Government is keen to burnish its green credentials but it is unacceptable for the UK to export its environmental problems elsewhere. We urge the Government to engage with the governments of countries importing these materials to encourage higher environmental standards and adequate working practices for those processing the waste."

The Committee also raises concerns about the illegal export of waste electrical and electronic equipment, which is often labelled as second hand equipment for re-use, and calls for safeguards to be put in place.


Maximising the recovery of materials from end-of-life products is crucial and a 'cradle to cradle' approach should be introduced in the UK, says the report. Despite a rate of 90% (by weight) metal recycling in the UK, it is of great concern that some strategic metals are likely to be lost in the 10% not being recycled.

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"There is significant potential for the UK to improve its efficiency of metal use, and we heard evidence of effective methods for materials recovery. It is vital that the Government explores these options without delay."

Further recommendations

The report also calls for:

  • Improving existing legislation to ensure companies implement requirements on reporting non-financial information, such as human rights and health and safety issues
  • An evaluation by the Government of the potential for introducing similar legislation to that in the US whereby companies are required to produce detailed reports on ‘conflict minerals’ that they use

The Committee also uses its report to bring the alleged activities of large dealers on the London Metals Exchange to the attention of the Office of Fair Trading.

Domestic extraction

Finally, the report looks at domestic extraction and says planning regulations should not unnecessarily restrict the use of significant potential reserves and that domestic mining could alleviate risks associated with sourcing metals from external supply monopolies. In parallel the Government has to invest in research to ensure that future domestic mining has the least possible environmental impact.

Further information 

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