E-Waste Recycling vs Mineral Extraction

Our economies depend upon raw materials in order to manufacture new products, and most of the materials our industry depends upon are extracted from our world. Sustainable materials such as wood, bamboo and natural rubber are all well and good, but what about non-renewable materials, such as metals and minerals?  

Continually mining minerals has a heavy toll on both the planet and the people involved. Between air pollution, water pollution, soil erosion and habitat damage[1], mining has heavy consequences to our environment, and the impact of mining sites last long after their use is over. Yet despite heavy resistance to environmental regulations even by the workers, it’s been shown that the methods used by mining companies across the world have negative impacts on economic growth, diminishing wealth alongside the environment[2].

A growing alternative is e-waste recycling. E-waste, short for electronic waste, is trash generated from broken, obsolete, and surplus electronic devices: anything from televisions, electric cookers and microwaves to computers, mobile phones and batteries. Typically, these electronics often contain toxic chemicals and hazardous materials, and most of the plastics and many of the chemicals used in electronics are derived from oil. This makes them very damaging to both the environment and public health when left to rot in landfills[3]

Yet methods are now available to recycle these products and reclaim the resources lost to discarded tech. With 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste produced worldwide in 2019, only 17.4 per cent was recorded as collected and appropriately recycled[4]. Even with this tiny quantity, however, the amount of reusable raw material reclaimed was over 5mt, worth over $10B, and estimated to save up to 15mt of CO2 equivalents in emissions[5]. No matter how you stretch it, formal e-waste recycling initiatives, along with efforts by manufacturers to enable easier recapture of materials, could provide us with enough raw materials to last us generations. Look out for them near you!

Cited Sources:

Search terms for your own research: mining environmental impact, e-waste recycling, ‘weee’ recycling centres near me

 Circular Production, Social Equity

 Resource Overuse, Low Wage Jobs

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