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‘Mining’ critical materials from trash could close loop on circular economy

Made right, made here, boom!

That is the summation made by Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) of a circular economy that can recover critical materials from discarded phones, outdated computers or old electric vehicles and use those hard-to-source minerals to build wind turbines and solar panels.

A bill laid over Wednesday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee aims to boost Minnesota’s efforts to “mine” materials like cobalt, lithium and nickel from products at the end of their useful life. As amended, HF4550 would establish a Critical Materials Recovery Advisory Task Force charged with helping increase recovery of those critical materials.

Rep. Alicia “Liish” Kozlowski

Too much of what we recycle is sent to other states and even other countries to recover critical materials when that process should be done right here in Minnesota, said Rep. Alicia “Liish” Kozlowski (DFL-Duluth), the bill sponsor. Growing the recovery industry here would provide safe, good-paying jobs and make the state a leader in sourcing materials needed for a clean energy future.

Ensuring the process comes with labor and environmental standards would be the job of a 13-member task force appointed by the Pollution Control Agency. Members would include representatives from the solid waste and energy industries, manufacturing, labor, tribal governments and experts in environmental justice issues.

The task force would:

  • investigate emerging technologies;
  • do cost-benefit analysis to include economic, environmental and social costs of recovering materials;
  • find ways to keep valuable materials from ending up in landfills; and
  • identify infrastructure needed to collect, transport and recycle materials.

A report would be due to the Legislature and Pollution Control Agency by Dec. 31, 2025.

The bill has bipartisan support including from Conservation Minnesota and the United Steel Workers.

Rep. Roger Skraba (R-Ely) said recovering critical materials is perfect for what is happening in northeast Minnesota where helium – used to make computer chips ­– was just found.

“We could easily manufacture computer chips here in Minnesota,” Skraba said.

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