Statistics show that China owns 95% of all rare earth metal production. In recent months it has been reported that they have reduced the exports of rare earth metals such as lithium, indium, manganese and platinum to countries like Japan.
This is a problem for Japan as it relies heavily on these materials for the production of cars and high-tech products such as mobile phones and computers.
Japan currently has laws in place to recycle cars and large appliances but has no laws or programmes in place for mobile phone recycling or other smaller electronic devices.
The Japanese government is now planning to create programmes such as a mobile phone recycling programme which will aim to extract some of the 13 rare earth metals that are essential for the production of high-tech products. Funding will be provided to support practical recycling technologies of small appliances that use these precious metals. Some of the devices that may be recycled are mobile phones, DVD players, digital cameras and microwave ovens.
Japan needs to do something to help with the extraction of these rare materials as the global demand is likely to grow sharply as sales of environmentally friendly cars and other products continue to increase. Some estimates state that by 2020 the demand for lithium will go up 203-fold from current levels.