Urban Mining: An Unimaginably Valuable Mine On Earth Electronic waste has 50 times higher concentration of precious metals than ores which are mined from Earth

By Vidhi Bubna

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Traditional mining happens underground, but urban mining happens right on the surface of Earth with metals from phones, batteries, chargers and other e-waste. Some analysts believe that the scope of urban mining beats traditional mining in terms of value generation and return on investment. Electronic waste has 50 times higher concentration of precious metals than ores which are mined from Earth. Most of the used electronic products, which would otherwise be decomposed in landfills and be burned, are now used to extract precious metals which can be recycled. This also reduces the carbon footprint of the environment.

Jeevesh Kumar, CEO of Greenscape Eco Management, says, "Till a few years back, nobody thought that mining will be done from our very phones and chargers. The waste would be burned in landfills and contribute to climate change. E-waste mining is now a huge industry. Most companies work directly with mobile brands which collect the e-waste and give them to e-waste companies to recycle. Even customers are growing more conscious and they want to recycle their products. There is a mindset shift and the entire landscape will change in the next decade."

Many sustainable conscious customers ensure that they only give their products for recycling. Anoop Keshari, a resident of Varanasi, has stored eight used phones and their chargers at home and is looking for a company to send them to for recycling. He says, "I do not want to add to my carbon footprint. I even have old bluetooth headphones and speakers kept at home because I want to send them for recycling. I have many friends who I have urged to do the same." There are many more conscious consumers who want to recycle their e-waste instead of merely dumping it.

According to calculations by scientists, 50 million tonnes of e-waste remains to be recuperated worldwide. This also explains the recent boom in the number of e-waste recycling companies and start-ups. Various precious metals like gold and cadmium which are expensive and present in mobile phones, chargers, speakers, headphones, computers and other electronics. When the e-waste is dumped into landfills, a lot of precious metals are wasted which could otherwise be used for other purposes.

According to Deepak Maurya, the founder of e-waste recycling firm Scraptap, "We are a B2C business which collects waste directly from people. We work with NGOs to spread awareness and increase collections of e-waste from home. Overall, we help people to reduce their carbon footprint. We have noticed that this industry is huge. More electronics are released and people are buying new electronics more frequently. In the next 15 years, there will be 3 billion new consumers who will want to buy electronics. There will be more e-waste which will need to be recycled."

Various start-up founders of electronics are also more aware. Their goal is to not only sell their products but also to ensure that the products are properly recycled after that. Start-up founders are also aware that consumers are more conscious about recycling.

Kunal Garg, founder of Virowave, a UV scanner for sanitising products, says, "We are trying to formulate partnerships which ensure that our waste will be disposed properly. Despite starting our product this year, we have been thinking about ways in which we can ensure that the e-waste will be disposed properly."

Urban mining not only reduces climate change by recycling products, but it also helps to reduce conflict in various zones. In countries like Congo, mining of various minerals causes conflicts in the region. Urban mining can reduce the demand for conflict minerals thereby helping to maintain peace in various places. Many people face hazardous risks because of inadequate disposal of e-waste. In Ghana, people risk their health to recover e-waste and sell it to companies which recycle the waste. Adequate supply chains of e-waste will reduce the exposure that poor people have to e-waste in landfills and other disposal facilities.

Many of us knew that mining happens underground, few knew that mining can actually happen on the ground as well. Most phone and computer manufacturers have exchange programs for consumers who want to buy new electronics. These exchange programs are an effective tool to get the e-waste back and recycle it. Recycling e-waste not only helps to combat climate change but it also plays a role in reducing conflict in high mineral zones.

The urban mine on Earth is growing larger every day. However, only 15-20 per cent of the world's e-waste is recycled annually. We need to make most of the mine we have on Earth to combat climate change.

Vidhi Bubna

Freelance Writer

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who writes about a wide variety of topics. She starts every morning reading current affairs and likes to keep up with new trends worldwide. She is also a trekking enthusiast and hopes to move to the Himalayas someday. 

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