WE’RE in an era of mass overproduction. Offices, cars, ships, planes, mobile phones, laptops, batteries, TVs etc. A multitude of objects that often end-up as waste, buried in landfill, incinerated, or dumped, with awful environmental damage. The same time, mining companies pollute the planet, exploiting local communities with huge CO2 emissions to make more products.

Instead of mining for more raw materials there’s a system which avoids the need for ore and violent extractavist mining. It’s ‘urban mining’, getting back metals and minerals already used, with huge potential for this ‘global mine’ if all products in use are counted in waste or landfill , then these raw materials re-used for long-term resource conservation - as well as providing economic benefits.

Think about all the things you’ve put in the bin or taken to the tip over the past decade, then expand that quantity of waste by every business and home in your area. It’s a huge amount of stuff, containing a mishmash of materials and it could have ended up anywhere. What enables urban mining is well-sorted waste streams created at collection, as the more it is separated when we get it back, the lower the cost. Same with landfill – the more sorted the landfill, the easier it is to mine.

Apart from good collection and recycling systems, urban mining relies upon people handing over products they no longer use. British charity WRAP ( Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimates that as many as 125 million mobile phones are being hoarded in people’s drawers in the UK alone, the gold and copper inside throwing away a fortune. Greater understanding of e-waste - any product that has a battery or electrical plug - is vital, especially making a big difference to the value of recycling.

Elements found in e-waste, such as gold, silver, platinum, indium and gallium, are not only expensive but essential for greener future technology, including wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars. If they end-up in landfill, they can be highly hazardous, poisoning land and waterways. In 2019, a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide. This ‘waste’ is a major part of the global urban mine, which includes an estimated 450 million tonnes of recyclable products present in homes and businesses in the EU. Tracking these products at scale is a complicated but big part of the Urban Mine Platform database.

The “Waste Not Want Not” addict,

Alan Debenham