E-Waste Recycling Could Save Key Metals

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) in the United Kingdom is running a campaign to draw attention to e-waste recycling and the importance of mining minerals contained in electronic technology rather than continuing to mine minerals from the Earth.

The new campaign comes in light of research conducted by the RSC that found some of the Earth’s key elements such as lithium are running out. A survey also done by the RSC discovered a high demand in consumers for more sustainable electronic products.

The RSC hopes to resolve such problems with the new campaigns’ focus on promoting more e-waste recycling plants across the UK.

What is e-waste and why is it hazardous?

E-waste is known as electronic waste — anything ranging from computers, television, phones, home appliances and practically anything with a cord or plug. 

In order to produce electronic devices, many different chemicals and metals are used as components in the making of such products, yet the metals and chemicals used prove to be hazardous to human health. 

Harmful metals in e-waste include gold, silver, mercury, nickel, arsenic, etc which if not properly recycled or disposed of can cause carcinogens in the air and pose overall environmental and human health problems. 

Currently, the UK is the second-largest producer of e-waste in the world with 23.9 kg of e-waste per household being produced in 2019. 

Worse than the UK in this race to the bottom is Norway, the largest producer of e-waste in the world. Although Norway is considered one of the world’s most sustainable countries — with a high focus on green energy and recycling — data suggests the 26 kg of e-waste per capita in 2019 is a result of the popularity of electric vehicles in the country. 

Yet due to the complicated and meticulous nature of recycling lithium batteries, oftentimes electric vehicles produce e-waste — Norway now facing a surplus of e-waste. Norway’s problem only confirms the argument for why focusing on recycling e-waste needs to be more common.

RSC campaign hopes to promote the importance of e-waste recycling through statistics 

Studies done prior to the release of the RSC campaign found that the amount of e-waste generated is growing by about two million tonnes every year, with less than 20% of it actually getting recycled. 

In reaction to such numbers, RSC conducted a survey which found a high demand of consumers wanting more sustainable technology — out of 10,000 people across 10 different countries, 60% said they would switch to a more sustainable tech brand. The survey also found that most consumers didn’t know how to properly dispose of their e-waste. 

The campaign encourages consumers to recycle e-waste through recycling centers and informs consumers of where in the UK such recycling centers are located.

Another important factor the RSC campaign pointed out was the decrease of precious metals in the Earth used to produce electronic devices. Pointing to the latest geopolitical unrest, the war in Ukraine has caused huge spikes in the price of precious metals like nickel — an important element used in electric vehicles.

This upset is causing disruptions in the supply chain that make it more difficult to produce electronic devices. The changes in market are also disturbing the prices of other important metals like lithium — another key ingredient in the making of electric vehicles. 

Especially as precious metals are crucial for developing green-energy products, the demand for metals is surging — demand now outweighs supply. Crucial metals found in smartphones that could run out in the next century include gallium (used in solar panels, LED lights), arsenic, silver, indium (LED lights, camera lenses) and tantalum. 

The RSC campaign suggests instead of mining metals from the Earth which has now become hard to obtain, focus should shift on repurposing metals found in e-waste that countries already have plenty of access to — especially since disposing of e-waste currently is a waste of critical metals.

Not only would recycling e-waste help solve supply chain issues of precious metals, but it would also encourage a sustainable way of disposing e-waste. The RSC campaign sheds light on an important solution to e-waste and the development of green energy that demands attention if countries like the UK are serious about a switch to more sustainable green energy and places like Norway needing a viable way to dispose of electric vehicle batteries.


Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.comIn the Featured Photo: Electronic waste in Agbogbloshie, Ghana on December 18, 2018. Source: Muntaka Chasant, Flickr.



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