16 April 2018
A United Nations report in 2017 declared that electronic waste is one of the world's most serious risks. Waste electronic devices that are thrown into the junk without entering the recycling process have a potentially harmful effect on human and environmental health. According to the report, in 2016, 44.7 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste) was generated. This figure is 3.3 million tons, or 8 percent more than in 2014. Experts predict that by 2021 the amount of e-waste will rise to 52.2 million tons.
According to the research, traditional mining efforts are costly and difficult, along with precious metals from waste electronic devices.
Only about 20 percent of all these waste electronic devices can be recycled. In other words, we can process 1/5 of 4,500 pieces of Eiffel Tower-sized electronic stacks, one at a time, into global production again. However, research shows that valuable materials from electronics that enter the recycling process can be as profitable as mining from scratch.
Apart from plastic and glass items, electronic devices contain many precious metals used in circuit and motherboard production. Not many valuable items can be obtained from a single smartphone. But around the world, 1.7 billion smartphones are sold each year. When only 1 million of these are recycled, 34 kilograms of gold per year, about 16 tons of copper and 350 kilograms of silver can be obtained.
No one was so sure that it was really profitable to get these numbers until now. A report submitted by the American Chemical Society confirms this. In a scientific paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, it is told that waste electronic mining is now becoming more efficient than traditional mining. Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and a joint team of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, reviewed the operations of eight recycling companies in China.
These companies have been involved in calculating many factors, such as the amount of gold and copper they have gained from recycled TV sets, recycling costs and tools, incentives and subsidies from the government, and the revenues from the sale of the metals obtained. The researchers then compared the costs and revenues to the traditional mining costs and revenues. The waste electronics mining has been found to be 13 times cheaper than traditional mining under ideal conditions. Each country does not offer high incentives such as China in the field of e-waste recycling. But this report can serve as a starting point for at least an important trend.