Now you strike gold by simply disassembling the device you are reading this on. You may even be able to make more money from mining for gold, copper, and other metals from your smartphone than actually extracting it from the ground. In 2014 alone, it is estimated that Mexico generated a staggering 1 million tons of electronic waste, or e-waste, which includes all non-functional tablets, smartphones, computers, laptops, and other electronics. This means that each person throws away an average of 8.2kg of e-waste. This waste contains a combination of materials, especially ferrous metals such as, gold, copper, silver, and iron. Recycling and mining in one million cell phones can extract more than 50 pounds of gold and more than 20,000 pounds of copper. In 2012, the US threw away more than 140 million cell phones, if they would have been recycled, a company could have extracted more than 7,000 pounds of gold, and 2.8 million pounds of copper.
The world is in dire need for more companies that will recycle these types of products. A couple of questions remain regarding this e-waste and its whereabouts. Although it is strictly forbidden by international law, numerous countries export all of this trash into other countries like India, Africa, and China. The UK was found to have exported at least 23,000 metric tons of this trash in 2003, and other countries export even larger amounts each year. China has taken advantage of this recycling and began to create scrap yards, filled with mountains of e-waste.
These companies recycle millions of electronics in which they extract copper, silicon, and nickel, which they then either sell to manufacturers or reuse these substances themselves. E-waste is extremely hazardous, and the majority of the people involved in recycling these products at the moment are often children.Recycling and reusing the minerals found in electronic devices will not only create a safer environment for us, but also clean up our dumps and stop the dumping in other countries, and create a new business model and method of retrieving these precious substances. China is one of the largest recyclers of e-waste. In China there are about 400 million phones thrown away each year, yet only 1% of them are recycled. With such immense amounts of trash, provinces are encouraging the development of a variety of recycling business models that literally turn somebody else’s trash into gold. Aihuishou.com is an online electronic recycling platform that allows consumers to get rid of their out-of-date phones for a good price, which are then sent to Green Eco-Manufacturer in Shenzhen to extract metals and other components in order to properly recycle these phones.
African countries, such as Ghana, received around 22,575 metric tons of e-waste in 2009, and hundreds of people go to the dump sights and begin recycling without knowing the consequences of just how dangerous it is if done incorrectly. The Agbogbloshie makerspace Platform (AMP) is a project that promotes the safe recycling of this perilous rubbish. This organization informs and teaches these communities how to extract these substances in a safe manner and how to profit from it. The world is aware that mining is not the most environmentally-friendly industry, but it is necessary to manufacture almost everything we use in our everyday lives. Finding new ways to recycle and extract these minerals from things we no longer use could result in being a more sustainable business model. Taking advantage of unseen opportunities like these could help end the vicious electronics cycle, boost the economies of developing countries, and potentially supply in a sustainable manner the demand for minerals across the world.
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With information from: UN University, Smithsonian, Economictimes