In a research publication, a group of researchers from Tsinghua University, China, and Macquarie University, Australia demonstrated that recovery of gold, silver, copper, etc., from electronic waste, is 13 times cheaper than virgin mining. The proper recycling of electronic waste will provide ferrous, non-ferrous, and precious metals, which reduces the carbon footprint compared to primary mining. India is the fifth largest generator of e-waste in the world and will the same economics hold good in India too?
The recent study has again proved the significance of recycling. The researchers used real-cost data from eight major recycling companies in China to support their calculations; these costs include waste collection, manual labour, energy consumption, material and transportation, as well as capital costs of the recyclers’ equipment and buildings. The extraction of metals from electronic waste is also known as ‘Urban mining’.
Urban mining costs for 1 kg ingots of gold were found to have decreased from US$ 8438 in 2010 to US$ 1591 in 2015. By comparison, virgin mining costs varied depending on the extraction method used, and an average of US$ 33,404.626 per kg (US$ 1039 per oz) for gold.
Similarly, urban mining costs for 1 kg ingots of copper were found to have decreased from US$ 6.697 in 2010 to US$ 1.684 in 2015. Whereas, virgin mining costs ranged between US$ 0.8 and US$ 1.6 per kg for copper, depending on the extraction method used.
“The results are confined to the cases of copper and gold extracted and processed from e-waste streams made up of recycled TV sets, but these results indicate a trend and potential if applied across a broader range of e-waste sources and metals extracted,”.
The researchers argue that metals recovery from post-consumer electronics ‘becomes cheaper every year’. ‘If these results can be extended to other metals and countries, they promise to have positive impacts on waste disposal and mining activities globally, as the circular economy comes to displace linear economic pathways,’ the researchers note.
These findings by researchers Xianlai Zeng and Jinhui Li of Tsinghua University in Beijing and John Mathews of Macquarie University in Sydney were published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology. The objective of the work was to determine whether recycled cathode ray tube televisions present a good urban mining source.
The reality of Urban mining from e-waste in India
In 2016, India produced 17 lakh tons of electronic waste, and of this, only 2 lakh tons of electronic waste reached the authorized recyclers/dismantlers for processing. As a growing economy, India is in need of ferrous, non-ferrous, and precious metals. To meet the demand, India is importing metals from many countries.
Does the same economics hold true for India?
There are various expenses for recycling electronic waste as mentioned above. These expenses are offset by the government subsidies and by revenue from selling recovered products and by-products. For example, the Chinese government offers subsidies to recycling companies based on the type of electronic waste ranging from $5.1 (Washing machines & AC) to $12.5 (TV & Computers). In Western countries, consumer awareness is high, leading to low cost and ease of collection.
On the contrary, in India, due to lack of awareness, lack of subsidy, poor collection infrastructure, lack of government support and the massive presence of informal sector, the cost of extraction of metals from e-waste is higher.
It’s true that even in India, the extraction of metals from e-waste is cheaper than virgin mining and processing, but the difference depends on various costs and subsidy if any.
Let’s support proper recycling of e-waste.
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