Is E-waste mining the next big thing?
Global demand for raw minerals continues to grow, as the developing world moves towards a more technologically supported future. The need to have the latest phone or computer is creating a vast supply of used devices that until recently found their way into landfill. In 2016 alone, 435,000 tonnes of phones were discarded, many of which contained precious raw materials that could represent as much as £8.3bn.
This has created a new industry of E-miners, who painstakingly dismantle devices to extract valuable raw materials and send other parts off to be recycled. The process delivers a whole host of benefits through job creation, economic stimulation and environmental concern which could reduce global landfill supply by as much as half a billion tons by 2020.
Professor Veena Sahajwalla from the University of New South Wales, who runs the Universities E-mine is keen to stress the potential profitability: "Economic modelling shows the cost of around $500,000 Australian dollars (£280,000) for a micro-factory pays off in two to three years, and can generate revenue and create jobs," she says.
When examining the economics of gold mining there is a clear case that E-mining could yield a better return. For every ton of raw material extracted from a gold mine, the producer would expect to find around five or six grams of material. With electronic devices you can expect as much as 350g per ton.
Aside from the raw weight gains, you can also expect a saving from overall running costs. Facilities, labour, recycling and administration costs coupled with subsidies you would achieve through recycling as opposed to drilling, create a scenario where mining from ore is 13 times more expensive than e-waste mining.
It seems interest in the process is starting to gather pace, as a whole host of new entrepreneurs across Europe and Asia have registered business titles and models with companies house. Soon we could even see the value of our old phones increase, giving that old Nokia 3210 in the bottom of your bedside draw a new lease of life.