The concept of a circular economy is a great match for e-waste products often made of rare elements because it helps find other uses for materials, keeping them at their highest utility and value.
Researchers from the University of Southern Denmark have developed a simple and comprehensive circular economy system for e-waste that may be successful. The system is based on the philosophy of “product family” and supported by an improved collection system, a pre-sorting and testing platform and a family-centric processing of end-of-life products.
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How many mobile phones have you bought in your lifetime? Where are they now? Apart from the plastics and glass what else makes up a phone? One of the answers is rare earth metals which are mined in small operations around the globe. These metals are difficult to extract and process and when they’re mined, that’s it, they’re gone.
How about laptops? Hair dryers? All electronics products use metals which must be mined. According to the Minerals Education Coalition, a baby born in the US today will use up 539 lbs of zinc, 903 lbs of lead and 985 lbs of copper during his or her lifetime. Copper is running out, with demand outstripping supply, leading to dramatic price increases.
One of the challenges facing the recycling of e-products is the speed of innovation. Smartphones are released in an unrelenting torrent of new designs and capabilities; while the diversity of technology increases by its inherent nature, seemingly infinitely. Recycling of new tech does happen, but it’s labour intensive, haphazard and not viewed as part of the manufacturing system.