Mining precious metals like gold, silver and these days copper is extremely costly as well as being energy-intensive, environmentally harmful and dangerous. We continue to seek precious metals because they are not just used for ornamentation; they are essential parts of modern electronic devices.
As our gadgets wear out or become obsolete, more and more of them end up in landfills. As a result, we have built up a considerable amount of “E-Waste.” Pound-for-pound, e-waste contains 10 to 50 times more copper than copper ore and a discarded phone has 5 to 10 times the gold content of gold ore.
Harvesting precious metals from discarded electronic products is what is known as urban mining and it is becoming increasingly popular.
The world produces roughly 45 million tons of e-waste each year. Harvesting it for its valuables saves energy, saves landfill space, reduces the amount of toxins released into the soil, water and air, and can be quite profitable. The U.S. alone discards $60 million worth of gold and silver each year. Worldwide, only about 10-15 percent of discarded gold is currently recovered from e-waste.
A start-up company called BlueOak Resources has recently broken ground on the first of what it plans to be many “urban mining refineries,” which will be facilities for extracting precious materials from e-waste. The demand for precious materials continues to grow, and the costs of obtaining them are continuing to grow as well. E-waste recycling and processing is a way to sustain our technological needs that makes more sense all the time.
“Earth Wise” is heard on WAMC Northeast Public Radio and is supported by the Cary Institute.
~From my techie cloud to yours