What are Critical Raw Materials?

Critical Raw Materials (CRM) are a list of finite materials released by the European Commission that are in scarce global supply. Limited or decreasing access to them are cause for world-wide concern due to their links to technology, industry needs and the environment.

Using specialist methodology and systematic screening processes, the 2020 list below contains 30 materials, which have risen from 14 since 2011.

(Table source: European Commission)

There is enormous global appetite for these materials, which are sourced world-wide, and that demand puts extreme strain on the planet.

Where will I find CRMs?

The functionality of many of our electronics rely on Critical Raw Materials, with most people unknowingly using them in everyday life. They exist in our smartphones, laptops and televisions and all the gadgets that go alongside them.

Server, storage and networking equipment contains 23 out of 30 CRMs. This means the materials we depend on for the world’s data services are in short or politically unstable supply.

CRMs also feature within specialist equipment we might not be so familiar with, technology used for essential military and medical purposes for example. In terms of clean environment technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels, energy efficient vehicles and lighting, there are no substitutes for the Critical Raw Materials they require.

To put it simply, Critical Raw Materials are almost everywhere.

Why should I be concerned about CRMs?

Being in very short global supply, there are no viable alternatives for Critical Raw Materials that feature within much of today’s technology. It’s predicted that some of the sources of these materials will run out in decades. And when this happens, there will be a lack of viable substitutes. For example, mining of the seabed has been suggested as a solution, however this would bring major loss to eco-system structure.

As well as detrimental environmental impacts, materials that are used within our technology can be mined illegally and unethically. There is little transparency in terms of equal pay and working conditions, and very little visibility of where the IT equipment materials have come from by the time it meets the vendor or user.

Why are CRMs in such short supply?

Unfortunately, since the CRMs were announced in 2011, the planet’s e-waste problem has only grown. 50 million tonnes of e-waste composing of CRMs, that could be alternatively be reused, refurbished or recycled, is sent to landfill each year. This figure will likely double to 110 million tonnes by 2050. This is due to the take-make-waste culture humans have adopted, where instead of reusing earth’s precious materials, redundant items fall into the planet’s waste stream. 

There are many attributes that have contributed to this growing cycle. General lack of knowledge of how to regenerate or move technology into the secondary market, from individual up to industry level, is one of them.

We live in an era of digital change, with businesses constantly finding better, more efficient ways of working; upgrading systems and switching platforms for example. But the side effect from these progressions can be e-waste as when infrastructure is no longer required by a company, there is lack of awareness that another organisation can make use of the equipment via the secondary market.

Many turn to recycling as the answer. But current recycling methods mean it’s almost impossible to recover 100% of materials within IT equipment. During this process, quite often an extraction of one material means sacrificing some or all of the remaining elements. Due to the mass of Critical Raw Materials in electronics being smaller in comparison to other materials that feature within IT equipment, it’s common that the CRMs are destroyed and sent to landfill as a result of the ‘recycling’ process.

Storing redundant equipment is not best practice either. Following upgrading smart phones for example, 75% of us hold onto un-used gadgets after changing devices. Not giving gadgets the opportunity to be refurbished and re-homed also only drives the mining of essential elements from the planet further.

How can we make better use of CRMs?

The solution to the CRM issue is to reduce the mining of these raw materials from the earth and re-use our existing resources. Techbuyer is committed to educating individuals and businesses on sustainable IT solutions that will preserve the planet’s Critical Raw Materials.

Choosing refurbished equipment also comes with many environmental, cost and performance benefits. Techbuyer has over 225,500 IT parts in stock that all undergo rigorous testing before re-sell, providing performance that matches or exceeds that of brand new.

It’s not always necessary to completely replace your equipment though when the performance of your desktops, laptops or servers dip. Simple for laptops and desktops example can likely more than double their usual lifespan equipment and eliminate the need to replace entirely. The same applies to data centres and IT Infrastructure, which can also be upgraded to performance need.

Techbuyer and the University of East London recently proved that older generations of servers perform as well as, or better than, new IT equipment. Find out more about our research below.

When not deemed useful anymore, we know that businesses in particular store unused phones and equipment due to worries about data leakages. This in fact poses a bigger security risk than using an IT Asset Disposition service. Used by world-wide organisations such as NASA, the Techbuyer ITAD service gives complete reassurance that all data is completely erased, with a certificate presented to the business at the end of the process to clarify this. Along with major security benefits, ITAD is an environmentally friendly and cost-effective alternative to storing or recycling.

Selling your used IT equipment is also a great way to keep technology in circulation. You can gain a return from your unwanted equipment, whilst ensuring 100% of your data is unrecoverable. Techbuyer provides full certification to support the data erasure of each device.

Techbuyer is a global provider of sustainable IT solutions. We buy, refurbish, repair and replace a wide range of servers, storage and networking, laptops, desktops and PCs. We maximise IT budgets and ensure quality technology is kept in circulation. You can browse our IT equipment online, or get in touch with our IT specialists for any enquiries.

We recently won 'Circular Economy Business of the Year' at the IEMA Awards, demonstrating that circularity is at the core of our business model. We also contribute to a range of industry-leading research initiatives including the energy efficiency of servers, and the material make-up of IT hardware.