The Future of Mining E-Waste

Note: Article adapted from here.

Our resources are finite, and the earth's precious metals are quickly depleting. The smartphones we are so quick to discard contain upwards of 30 scarce elements. As our dependence on technology reaches its peak; it is crucial we take an alternative approach, and mine electronic waste instead of the earth. Electronic waste lays piled up in landfills, causing significant harm to the health of the surrounding environment as a consequence. In 2021 alone, we generated 57 million tonnes of electronic waste globally. This untenable practice has left us with mountains of old devices, set to outweigh the Great Wall of China in coming years. The current political climate has also played a role in perpetuating a substantial increase in the prices of metals. The volatility of the war in Ukraine and global supply chain snarls have pushed the cost of lithium up by a whopping 500% since last year.

The amount of electronic waste is growing at a rate of approximately 2 million tonnes yearly. However, less than 20% of what we dispose of is actually collected and recycled safely. Governments must take initiatives towards reducing the immense amount of waste that remains unaccounted for. Technology firms must also be held accountable, as it is quintessential that more sustainable manufacturing be the norm. Although this proves more costly for firms, new research has revealed that over 60% of respondents are more likely to purchase their devices from companies that employ sustainable production methods. The research also showed that people were not aware of how to properly dispose of their electronics, despite indicating worry for the environmental damage the alternative would cause. Manufacturers must work towards implementing 'take-back' schemes to allow for more efficient and convenient disposal. The rate at which we are replacing our devices is unsustainable; a circular economy is necessary to ensure a better future.

There is a golden opportunity to create a circular economy for e-waste. Recycling high value resources from existing equipment creates reusable components for the manufacture of new devices, cutting the cost of feedstock and disposal at both ends of the supply chain.

The concept hinges on innovative solutions like Clean Urban Mining’s (part of the Clean Earth Technologies Group) breakthrough technology for harvesting valuable materials, such as gold and copper, from e-waste.

Our goal is zero waste.