Mining e-waste: A sustainable way to extract metals
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10/05/2022
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Scientists have said that the recycling of e-waste must urgently be ramped up because mining the Earth for precious metals to make new gadgets is unsustainable. A recent campaign being run by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says there now needs to be a global effort to mine e-waste, rather than mining the Earth. […]

Scientists have said that the recycling of e-waste must urgently be ramped up because mining the Earth for precious metals to make new gadgets is unsustainable.

A recent campaign being run by The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) says there now needs to be a global effort to mine e-waste, rather than mining the Earth.

The RSC’s campaign will also draw attention to the unsustainability of continuing to mine all the precious elements used in consumer technology.

According to a study it is estimated that the world’s mountain of discarded electronics, in 2021 alone, weighed 57 million tonnes.

What is the need for recycling e-waste 

“Our tech consumption habits remain highly unsustainable and have left us at risk of exhausting the raw elements we need,” said Prof Tom Welton, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, adding that those habits were “continuing to exacerbate environmental damage”.

According to WHO, electronic waste has a lot of negative impacts on human health. As such, it can cause premature births to the unborn child, as well as low birth length and gain.

All the while, the amount of e-waste generated is growing by about two million tonnes every year. Less than 20% is collected and recycled.

“We need governments to overhaul recycling infrastructure and tech businesses to invest in more sustainable manufacturing,” said Prof Welton.

How can we recycle e-waste?

There is a growing demand from consumers for more sustainable technology. In an online survey of 10,000 people across 10 countries, 60% said they would be more likely to switch to a rival of their preferred tech brand if they knew the product was made in a sustainable way.

The survey also suggested that people did not know how to deal with their own e-waste. 

Elizabeth Ratcliffe from the Royal Society of Chemistry, told BBC Radio 4’s inside Science that many of us were “unwittingly stockpiling precious metals in our homes”, in old phones and defunct computers.

“All this volatility in supply chains really just reinforces the fact that we need a circular economy for these materials. At the moment, we’re just mining them out of the ground constantly,” said Ratcliffe.

The solution is simple – to take old and unwanted devices to recycling centres, rather than stuff them into drawers and forget about them.

“The thing we always say is reduce, reuse and recycle. So perhaps keep a phone for longer and maybe sell or give the old phone to a relative,” Ratcliffe concluded.

(Banner and feature image courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org)

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