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Every year, the amount of broken and/or obsolete electrical appliances increases. With its focus on reuse and recycling of this E-Waste, Out of Use is fully active in urban mining. But what exactly is urban mining and why is it so important?

What is urban mining?

Urban mining is the process of recovering raw materials such as precious metals (gold, silver, palladium, etc.) and base metals (copper, aluminium, lead, etc.) from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Just think of your smartphone, tablet or PC with which you are reading this article now. Within a few years, that device will probably either be obsolete or even defective. The raw materials from your device will still be usable and valuable.

The following materials are found in every smartphone: copper, silver, gold, palladium, lithium, aluminium, cobalt, lead, nickel and zinc. All these metals can therefore serve as raw materials for another new device, this becomes possible with urban mining.

 

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Foto Urban mining

What are the advantages of urban mining?

- Firstly, you avoid dumping e-waste (electronic waste) in polluting landfills. Much of this e-waste contains toxic and hazardous substances such as mercury, brominated flame retardants (BFR) or chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). These pose a serious risk to human health and the environment if not handled in an environmentally responsible manner. 

- Secondly, you gain 'secondary' raw materials, which reduces the need for mining and industrial production processes. In countries like Congo, the extraction of various minerals even causes conflicts in the region. Urban mining can reduce the demand for conflict minerals and thus help to keep the peace in different places.

- Last but not least, it allows us to keep precious and scarce raw materials in our own society, without being dependent on imports from other countries. Every day it becomes more difficult to extract these metals from nature, as they become more and more scarce and the demand increases. Some metals like europium and terbium are no longer findable even underground, but thanks to urban mining these metals are now available again.

You can conclude that urban mining has a positive impact on people, nature and the economy.

Source: Butterworth-Heinemann (11/2019). Urban mining of E-waste: treasure hunting for precious nanometals

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