When you get rid of your old cell phone, television, or stereo, where does it end up? Electronic devices, whether they’re as large as a washing machine or as small as an iPod, don’t simply disappear. They, unfortunately, end up in a landfill where they contribute to one of the fastest-growing categories of trash, e-waste.
Electronic devices that have been discarded are a threat not only to our environment, but to our health as well. Since these gadgets are made up of hazardous components such as lead, cadmium and polychlorinated biphenyls, they pose a major threat to everyone’s health, especially children’s.
So, what can we do to reduce e-waste?
No matter how old, your gadgets will remain a precious source of valuable metals like gold and copper. If more companies practice electronics recycling in the coming years, next-generation smartphones and tablets could be made from their predecessors. We could reduce the need for mining precious metals. In turn, we can conserve such finite resources.
Even though the world knows that e-waste holds billions’ worth of components and metals, we don’t recycle as much as we can. We recycle 20% of electronic waste through the right channels. But now that private and public sectors are becoming more aware of their impact on the environment, things should change in the coming years, starting with mining.
E-waste mining doesn’t involve extracting ores buried underneath the ground. It’s the process of extracting valuable metals from existing gadgets. Instead of dumping old and obsolete devices in landfills, they can be used to create new ones. It’s beneficial to the environment, and it’s going to be great for the economy.
In a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from Macquarie Graduate School of Management and State Key Joint Laboratory of Environment Simulation suggested that e-waste mining could be as profitable as de novo mining.
The team assessed the costs of eight electronic waste processing companies in China, and they compared it to costs incurred from traditional mining practices. They found that traditional mining sees 13% more costs than e-waste mining. They indicated that e-waste mining could be feasible and even profitable.
In the study, the researchers also suggested that entrepreneurs looking to start electronics recycling businesses must have the knowledge and expertise on metals and metal processing. Moreover, they indicated that e-waste mining might have to start off at a small scale.
Current E-Waste Mining Practices
Today, there are a handful of entrepreneurs who have already started their own e-waste mining companies. Veena Sahajwalla, an Australian professor, is one of the pioneers. Another e-waste project is an initiative from the European Union called Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes.
Advocates of electronic waste mining like Sahajwalla believe that this practice will be beneficial to several sectors tied up with the process. Countries can also be empowered to control and leverage their electronic wastes. In doing so, they can supply more jobs to their people, and in turn, they can reap the economic benefits.
When it comes to mining electronic products, old cathode-ray tubes and cell phones can be pretty valuable as they are both valuable sources of gold as well as copper. However, this new form of electronics recycling may not be able to handle all of the gadgets’ components. For instance, miners might still need to use considerable amounts of glass and plastics, which are likely to be discarded in the mining process.
On the other hand, other electronics recycling processes are also on the rise, and they should be able to deal with all of the components of e-waste. These practices adhere to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment initiative. Countries like Ireland, for example, have e-waste processing practices that entail separating metals and plastics from other components, enabling them to reuse all the elements extracted.
It may take a while before you see gadgets made entirely from recycled products. It’s unclear if it will ever happen in our lifetime. But one thing is for sure: there are several people working hard to make that possible. Eventually, recycling could serve as an environmental boon and a new revenue stream.
If you would like to learn more about how to recycle electronics, please contact us today.