As one can imagine, there is much (so very, very much!) to be salvaged besides rare earth materials from the stuff of human society. Metals, minerals and rock that have already been mined, wood that has been grown, are all “industrial nutrients” which can be upcycled – used again to make products of similar or higher value – if they can be recovered. (Plastic and other synthetic substances are usually far less “nutritional”, generally being downcycled if ever used again.) Tossed machines and electronic devices are one gigantic mass to be mined. Let’s take a little one. In 2008, 1.3 billion cell phones were sold.
Recently the Japanese government launched an advertising campaign that included prizes offered, to get their citizens to recycle their unused cell phones. Over a half million were collected in 100 days, enough to yield close to 50 pounds of gold, 175 pounds of silver, 2 pounds of palladium and over 5 tons (10,000 pounds!) of copper.
Toyota is beginning to recover batteries from hybrid vehicles no longer in use. The nickel will be used to make half again as many new batteries.
The Japanese and Europeans are moving quickly. German corporations Alba, MeWa and Hamos GmbH are three who handle many thousands of tons of e-waste, vehicles, appliances, cabling, etc. or make and sell the equipment to do so.
E-waste and other hazardous waste has been exported from richer to poorer countries where extracting anything of value was toxic and dangerous. An international treaty, the Basil Convention (BAN), was placed into effect in 1992 to limit these activities, although they still occur. As industry finds the economy in dealing with these materials and the ability to do it safely, this business is growing. Perhaps the repair industry could grow too?
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Barbara Hirsch, recording engineer, eco-person
“Unless someone like you cares a whole lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
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