Consumer electronics tend to get well, consumed. They tend to have a limited life compared to things like your furniture and even a lot of vehicles. This means that every year millions of tons of old phones, televisions, printers, and out of date laptops end up being discarded.
Some are secretly dismantled or broken to protect personal information and simply slipped into a garbage can or dumpster. Others are taken away by special electronic recycling services. Certain manufacturers will even take your old phone or laptop in exchange when you purchase a new one. There are even cities who have a spring or fall cleanup day where you can just leave anything at the curbside for free disposal. Some municipalities even provide recycling station bins.
The thing is, even though these electronic devices have no more value to you, doesn’t mean that there is no more value left in them! Indeed, most electronics have small amounts of copper, silver, platinum, and even gold in them!
On a small scale, individual level the amount of time and energy it would take you to properly extract it, then track down someone who would take it on face value. However, there are metal recycling services who work in large scale numbers to do just that. Some are even pioneering a new sector of development that is casually known as “E-Waste Recycling.”
Is E-Waste Recycling Economically Viable?
Right now early frontrunners in Australia, the United States, and Wales in the United Kingdom are working diligently to refine the process of extracting precious metals, like gold, from your out of date or damaged electronics.
With an undertaking like this efficiency is the key to turning a viable idea into a thriving and ultimately sustainable enterprise. Some experts in the field project economic models forecast that it will take around another $700,000 to $750,000 to make a full scale, efficient, and profitable E-Waste recycling plant. The time frame for this estimate could be as soon as two years or as far out as five.
Once it is up and running, the hope is that it will turn a significant profit in another otherwise empty niche. This includes creating new jobs out of essentially mining precious metals out of old electronics.
Of course, this kind of endeavor also goes beyond things like job creation, economic modeling, and profitability margins. There are also major environmental, social and economic benefits to be reaped from E-Waste recycling.
Could E-Waste Recycling Help The Environment?
All over the world, there are people who are increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change and man made contributions to global pollution problems. One area of concern is large scale mining operations, especially plaster mining operations in pristine locations, on virgin ground. While there are regulations in place with most countries that require mined grounds to be set up or reclaimed, an otherwise pristine, and balanced ecosystem is still being disturbed for the precious metals that lay beneath it.
One of the interesting benefits offered by these promised advancements in E-Waste recycling is a potential long-term reduction in traditional mining. A research study published by the journal Environmental Science & Technology noted that a typical cathode-ray tube in a TV contains roughly around 450 grams of copper as well as 227 grams of aluminum, and up to 5.6 grams of gold.
Now, these amounts might not sound staggering when taken in the context of one single old TV sitting in your garage. Especially, when by contrast a fully operational, large-scale plaster mine can potentially generate six to ten times that much gold in a matter of minutes, assuming it’s on good ground.
So, for E-Waste recycling to make a serious offset in reducing the impact of global mining for precious metals like gold, and semi-precious metals like copper, and aluminum, the scale needs to be large enough. At the same time, it also needs to be balanced with efficiency, as well as future scalability.
Is There Real Potential For Growth In Precious And Semi-Precious Metals Recycling?
Considering the long-term projection for the growth of consumer electronics is only on the rise, the amount of e-waste being generated now and into the future means the niche will have fuel for its fire. There are a lot of indicators pointing to increased business opportunities in this realm both for existing recycling businesses who want to expand, as well as entrepreneurial endeavors who have a process they want to start from scratch.
Indeed, the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union estimates that about 45-million tons of e-waste are generated in the average year. They also expect that amount to reach an average of 50-million tons by the end of 2020.
It seems that so long as the world economy doesn’t hit a massive recession in the next few years, that the supply and demand for consumer electronics will only be on the rise. This means that there will be more than enough material supply available for burgeoning E-Waste recycling companies.
Is There Some Proof Of Concept For E-Waste Recycling?
Casting some favorable on the subject, a joint study performed by Macquarie University in Australia, and Beijing’s Tsinghua University examined a wide swath of data from eight recycling companies. Their focus was to perform the analytics for extracting metals from electronic waste.
- They took a comprehensive approach to do this, which included examining factors like
- The expense of electronic waste collection
- The cost of labor at all levels
- Energy expenditure for extracting the metals from otherwise unusable materials
- Transportation costs, which included things like rental space for operations, and land use permits.
The proof of concept analytics focused on China, where the government also provides subsidies for recycling. This is something that very few other nations due to such a degree.
When all these things were factored together, the joint team of researchers found that mining the same metals from the Earth and processing the ore was 13 times more expensive than the best practices model for an E-Waste recycling facility.
Ultimately, E-Waste recycling is still in it’s earliest stages. Yet the early indicators also point to it’s potential for one day becoming not just an environmentally friendly practice, it could one day become a very profitable enterprise!