Posted by Tom Fitz
Tom Fitz
Tom utilizes over eighteen years of manufacturing experience to help companies c
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on Tuesday, 11 October 2011
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I Want to Be an Urban Miner

Recycling E-Waste to Make a Profit

There's no denying that we are fully immersed in the age of technology.  It seems like a new innovation or the next generation of an existing product is being launched every other month.  Computers, televisions and stereo equipment use to dominate the electronics market, but now they are being rivaled by MP3 players, smart phones, tablets and ERDs. 

With the rate at which new devices are being launched and purchased, older models are being discarded and junked at an equivalent pace.  So where will all of these obsolete items end up and what will happen to them?

E-Waste is Piling Up!

The US EPA estimates that in 2009, more than 82% of discarded electronics (E-Waste) were diverted to landfills and incinerators.  Of the remaining 18% that is recycled in the US, most figures estimate approximately 50 to 80 percent of the stream is shipped overseas. 
With our landfills reaching maximum capacity, we need to become shrewd with what we're manufacturing and ultimately sending to landfills.  What can be done?

Recycle Rare Earth Metals

First, there is a huge opportunity for “Urban Miners”.  In short, these pioneers dismantle electronics to remove anything that is recyclable.  Electronics contain a significant amount of rare earth metals and elements like copper, iron, nickel, manganese, zinc, tin, palladium, iridium, indium, antimony, bismuth and platinum.  Once the devices are processed and the materials separated, the valuable metals could be sold as high quality raw materials used to build new products. 

California- Always a “Green” Leader

The state of California was the first to pass e-waste legislation in 2003, and as a result, over 60 recyclers have processed more than 1 billion pounds of e-waste.  Twenty-four other states have since followed passing similar legislation, but there aren't enough recyclers to handle the waste stream. 

New Product Design Challenge

Second, we need manufacturers of these electronics to design for the products end of life.  Using recycled and recyclable materials to manufacture new products is an imperative step that needs to be incorporated into any design process.

Lastly, electronic manufacturers should provide a step-by-step disassembly card with any product sold.  This will provide the necessary guidelines to locate and remove any material that can be recycled.  

Want to make a difference to the environment while also making a profit??  Consider founding a company focused on urban mining.