A Brief Dive into the world of Urban Mining

Feb 3/23

blog cover image, with an urban city in the background of title

As we build our insatiable demand for non-renewable sources, so does the mountain of minerals and metals that are becoming increasingly destructive to our environment. These are materials we use in different ways, from cell phones to radios; new technological innovations have in fact increased the use of electronic devices coupled with the resources diminishing slowly. 

One of the central visions of Wastezon has centered around urban mining, a larger term for what we do here. Urban mining, coined in the 1980s by Professor Hideo Nanjyo of Tohoku University, is a concept that’s slowly gained traction worldwide. At the same time, we become more aware of its connection to electronic waste. 

To be more specific, urban mining is the process of reclaiming raw materials from waste products sent to landfills. It looks toward the waste generated by cities and urban environments as a valuable resource, using man-made stocks rather than geological resources.

In the context of Electronic Waste, urban mining focuses on the process of recovering rare metals from discarded waste electrical and electronic equipment using mechanical and chemical treatments.

While actual numbers of the growing e-waste generated have been challenging to make certain of, efforts have been noted; according to a 2014 e-waste report released by the United Nations dictated that the majority of the 2014 global e-waste amounted to almost 60% and consisted of kitchen, bathroom and laundry equipment, while personal devices (phones, computer, etc.) was 7%, Other devices included screens, cameras, lamps and more. 

All this tonne of electronic waste estimates to be roughly US$52 Billion in reusable resources, which is high in demand and toxic materials, yet low in availability.  The Global E-Waste Monitor of 2014 gathered that this number of e-waste generated also resulted in “..some 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold..”. If mishandled, toxins like mercury leak into the earth and the air, affecting millions of people’s health.

With urban mining, for it to be successful without being detrimental to the environment things like product life cycle management must meet the needs for utilization of resources. This is where concepts like traceability work hand in hand with urban mining in order to have optimal recovery of the waste materials. By developing effective strategies and technologies, there is promise in being able to reduce the growing rate of e-waste and its dangers

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