Metal E-Waste: A Hidden Treasure and How to Recycle It
Metal e-waste is a hidden treasure which contains many precious metals such as gold, silver, iron, copper etc. One of the most significant importance of recycling of electronic waste is that it helps eliminating toxic scrap. In the upcoming years, metal e-waste may bring many opportunities for a global industry.
We are surrounded by so many electronic devices on a daily basis. Everything in the 21st century would be the meaningless without our smart devices from cell phones, computers, and other recycled products. These devices are built with many components that comprise precious metals from gold, silver, to copper and palladium.
According to a recent report published by UN, almost $10bn (£7.9bn) worth of gold, platinum and other precious metals are discarded every year in the growing foothill of electronic waste increasing the level of environment pollution.
The UN’s Global E-waste Monitor report also found that in 2019, a highest amount of 54m tonnes of “e-waste” was produced across the world, a rise of 21% in five years. This amount of metal is equal to 7.3kg for every child, man, and woman on Earth. Compared to the entire population of the world, the amount of e-waste is mounting three times faster. However, only 17% of it was reprocessed in 2019.
However, most of these wastes are burnt rather than getting recycled. The worth of precious metals found in the electronic waste is approximately $14bn, while only $4bn is being recovered at the current moment.
The Importance of Electronics Recycling
One of the most significant importance of recycling of electronic waste is that it helps eliminating toxic scrap. Although it creates a minority of solid waste, up to 70% of it is toxic waste.
E-waste is a rich source of precious metals, with absorptions 40 to 50 times more plentiful than the natural amount in ore deposits. More than 320 tons of gold and 7,500 tons of silver used every year to produce new electronic products around the world.
Recovery of Precious Metals
A state-of-the-art recycling facility can recuperate as much as 95% of gold from the e-waste. In developing countries, the crude dismantling processes may recover only 50% of this precious metal. In addition, the workers may be exposed to a wide range of hazardous substances during the process.
The current e-waste recovery rates for processing are quite low. The recycling process can retrieve only a 10 to 15% of all the gold stored in e-waste.
This low recycling rate indicates the need for certain initiatives to enhance the recovery of precious metallic resources. Some of the ways that might be helpful in this concern are:
- Initiating policies for promoting design for recycling process
- Initiating policies and incentives to surge the e-scrap recycling rate.
- Inspiring the public to recycle their damaged electronic devices rather than amassing them in their residences. Almost 75% of these damaged devices are source of inventories.
- Stoppage of e-scrap export to countries with slow processes leading a low recovery rate
- Stimulating investment wherever needed to ensure the upsurge of the recovery rate both in developing and developed countries.
Recycling Process of E-Waste
The processing of e-waste is done in primary and secondary steps.
In the primary step, electronic devices are dismantled or de-manufactured, and the components are organized. Then the secondary step of processing takes place, at secondary recycling facilities.
This step involves a variety of processes. With the help of screens, magnets, and eddy currents, the materials are crushed and sorted. To unfetter precious metals from electronics components, a smelting process is used.
Recently, one new process has been introduced to recover gold from old electronic devices. This quick and low-cost process works with less environmental impact. The process uses a solution: acetic acid is combined with a very small amount of an oxidant and another acid. Researchers say that this combination helps dissolving gold at the fastest rate than ever.
We can hope that this e-waste will bring many more opportunities for material recovery industry across the globe.