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Rare Earth Metals May Be Lurking in Your Junk Drawer

WorldRare Earth Metals May Be Lurking in Your Junk Drawer

A vast and largely overlooked source of rare earth metals, materials critical for clean energy, could be in our homes, sitting in the back of our cabinets and junk drawers.

A new study from researchers in China and the Netherlands estimates that reusing or recycling rare earth metals from old cellphones, hard drives, electric motors and turbines could meet as much as 40 percent of the demand for the metals in the United States, China and Europe by 2050.

It’s a promising prospect, particularly for the United States, which relies heavily on imports of these materials, often just called rare earths. That reliance, industry experts say, can make American supply chains vulnerable to disruption and geopolitical risks.

Rare earths are essential for green technology, like electric vehicles and wind turbines, which have a critical role in moving the world away from burning fossil fuels. They’re also used in industries like aircraft, missile and satellite manufacturing.

Reusing and recycling rare earths can cut down on the need for mining, which can pollute soil and water with toxic heavy metals like arsenic. Rare earth mining operations have also become embroiled in local conflicts and human rights violations.

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