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Mine e-waste, not the Earth

  • Published
    10th May, 2022
Context

According to scientists, the recycling of e-waste must urgently be ramped up because mining the Earth for precious metals to make new gadgets is unsustainable.

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Recent estimates:

  • The "mountain" of waste electronic and electrical equipment discarded in 2021 will weigh more than 57 million tonnes.
  • This is heavier than the Great Wall of China - the planet's heaviest artificial object.
  • Globally, the amount of so called e-waste generation is growing by two million tonnes every year.
  • It is estimated that less than 20% is collected and recycled.

Growing demand:

  • Geopolitical unrest, including the war in Ukraine, has caused huge spikes in the price of materials like nickel, a key element in electric vehicle batteries.
  • Volatility in the market for elements is causing "chaos in supply chains" that enables the production of electronics.
  • Combined with the surge in demand, this caused the price of lithium - another important component in battery technology - to increase by almost 500% between 2021 and 2022.

Elements in smartphones that could run out in the next century:

  • Gallium: Used in medical thermometers, LEDs, solar panels, telescopes and has possible anti-cancer properties
  • Arsenic: Used in fireworks, as a wood preserver
  • Silver: Used in mirrors, reactive lenses that darken in sunlight, antibacterial clothing and gloves for use with touch-screens
  • Indium: Used in transistors, microchips, fire-sprinkler systems, as a coating for ball-bearings in Formula One cars and solar panels
  • Yttrium: Used in white LED lights, camera lenses and can be used to treat some cancers
  • Tantalum: Used in surgical implants, electrodes for neon lights, turbine blades, rocket nozzles and nose caps for supersonic aircraft, hearing aids and pacemakers
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