Urban mining is the practice of extracting valuable metals and materials from electronic waste. This seems pretty straightforward. In fact, if you’ve been following our blog at all or done any reading on e-waste you know that electronics are created using all kinds of precious metals. And they're called precious for a reason, they're not easy to obtain, and highly valuable.
But why is this practice so important? Let's look at some of the facts.
It's also reported that annual production of electronic goods worldwide requires 320 tons of gold and 7500 tons of silver. Follow that up with the knowledge that 50 million tons of e-waste are generated globally each year.
I’m sure right now you’re thinking that e-waste recycling and urban mining make a lot of sense. Well, then why are only 15-20% of the world’s electronics recycled annually and why are less than 15% of all gold and silver recovered from these electronics?
What is going on?!
A few things actually.
The Ethics of Urban Mining
There’s a lot of money to be made in the e-waste recycling industry and unfortunately a lot of it is made shipping e-waste from developed to developing nations. Companies choosing to skirt the regulations around how e-waste is processed means more money for them in the short term, but it also means catastrophic issues for those developing nations.
Which leads directly into our next point. Safe and secure urban mining requires proper facilities to retrieve precious metals. E-waste is too often managed incorrectly and the laundry list of toxic materials they contain wreaks havoc on both humans and the environment.
An example of this is the city of Guiyu, China, which is considered the e-waste capital of the world. Believe it or not, it gets about 4,000 tons of electronic waste every hour. About 90% of its residents have some form of neurological damage, making it the city with the highest-ever recorded level of dioxins globally.
As you can see, without the proper systems in place and the regulations to ensure compliance by companies managing e-waste there can actually be a lot of problems with urban mining. That being said, we’re sure it’s obvious why it’s such an important step toward a more sustainable future.