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Why Junk Electronics Should Be Big Business 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the return-them-in-michigan-for-twice-as-much dept.
An anonymous reader writes "We've heard before about the problem of e-waste — computers and other high-tech gadgets that are tossed into landfills or shipped off to third-world countries when they reach end-of-life. But this article makes the case that there's a huge business opportunity here, with billions of dollars going to waste in the form of metals that could be reclaimed from these old and broken devices. 'At current rates of production, $16 billion (or 320 tons) in gold and $5 billion (7500 tons) in silver are put into media tablets, smartphones, computers, and other devices annually. With growth in demand for smartphones and media tablets showing little sign of diminishing in the next few years, the flow of gold and silver from deposit to waste facilities is only likely to accelerate. ... StEP claims that, in developing nations, 50 percent of the gold in e-waste is lost due to "crude dismantling processes" and only 25 percent of the remainder is recoverable due to the rudimentary technology to hand. In contrast, 25 percent of gold is lost to electronics dismantling in developed nations, and modern facilities are able to recover 95 percent of the rest.'"
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Why Junk Electronics Should Be Big Business

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  • Except the enviornment implications of even modern reclaimation will likely create a superfund site

    • by jaymemaurice (2024752) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:17AM (#40683487)

      I'd also be curious as to know what is meant by "lost" and how they plan to deal with the tons of arsenic, beryllium and other crap in our e-waste

      • And also, I am curious if it's more practical to remove valuable metals from the ewaste or the equivilant weight nothern canadian in glacial deposits.

      • Presumably if that crap is in the waste then electronics manafacturers put it there and needed to buy it from somewhere. Pity there isn't a CERN style organisation with the requisite international funding to could come up with a profitable all in one recycling plant that can recycle more than just the easy to get at metals.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Australia must be the dumbest country of all.
        Bans the export of batteries etc, but charges $120-250 ton for landfill.
        Everything should roll into a smelter, and you get these primary leftovers.
        1) Metals incl rare earths
        2) Flock (Plastic rubber, and nonmetal crap)
        3) Lots of Glass if doing TV picture tubes or cars
        4) Lots of lead (considered nasty) and evil.
        5) Smoke and fumes
        6) Large electricity bill + Carbon Taxes + 10% Fed Gov Tax
        7) No cheap way of getting rid of flock, and no 'credits' or tax deductions for

        • by djl4570 (801529) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @01:45PM (#40688937) Journal
          Smelting as you describe would release large quantities of metal oxides with the smoke and fumes and contaminate a large quantity of glass with lead oxide and other metallic oxides that are soluble in molten glass. That's why glass is used for flux when smelting gold. The oxides that gas off can be hazardous, and the glass slag contains lead so use as little as possible.
          Before smelting, the material needs to be shredded, crushed and ground into fine particles and as much of the non metallic material as possible should be separated. Make the smelt as small as practical. Less material to heat, means lower energy consumption and fewer byproducts.
          Once you smelt out the base metals you are left with precious metals: gold, silver, copper and platinum group metals (PGM). At this point the silver and copper can be separated from the gold and PGM using the Miller process. Further refining of the gold once used the Wohlwill process which is expensive because of the quantities of auric acid required. Commercial gold refiners today don't talk about their processes.
      • by mirix (1649853) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @06:01AM (#40683985)

        I wouldn't think there is much Be in e-waste. I know it was used in BeO insulators, but they are quite rare. I'd think these days it is mostly relegated to aerospace - things like that where you just can't compromise.

        AlN is supposed to be pretty close in performance, so even that may be moving out.

        For arsenic, it's only used in semiconductors AFAIK, like GaAs and GaAsP LEDs, some fast transistors, etc. But in all of these cases, it's a crystal (and generally epoxy encapsulated), so I'm not sure how much arsenic would leach from it. I Suppose powder from mechanical damage and possible thermal (from reclamation process? or incineration) decomposition products would be considerably more problematic, though.

        Keep in mind these would be in pretty minute quantity compared to the (historical at least) asston of lead on every board. Even the copper is fairly bad for aquatic life, IIRC. (seem to recall that humans can process it, but it bioaccumulates in marine life, like various heavy metals do to us).

        • Beryllium Copper [wikipedia.org] is ubiquitous in electronics, anywhere you need something springy that can pass a fair current: connectors, IC sockets, cable pins. It's only like 2% beryllium, but there are a lot of connectors in most electronics.

          • by mirix (1649853)

            Ah yeah, I forgot all about BeCu. I usually only see it in some RF connectors, and even then it is only in the springy contact... in an alloy, under gold plating.. so again, pretty safe unless pulverized, I'd think.

            The vast majority of general purpose connectors don't use it though, and use the much cheaper phosphor bronze for spring contacts.

        • Most molluscs, and some arthropods, use copper in their "blood", so no idea how bad copper actually is for aquatic life. I do recall that it stops the growth of algae.
      • by hairyfeet (841228)

        Every recovery technique I've seen ends up with a "toxic sludge" that is not gonna fly in the west, and frankly shouldn't be flying in the third world except for the fact their officials are even easier to bribe than ours.

        As we have seen from our superfund sites once a place is poisoned often that's it, you have to put a fence around it and walk away, its gonna remain toxic as it'll cost trillions to clean up. There is no "profit" here except by walking away and leaving that mess behind which while you c

    • by kevmitch (2220314) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:59AM (#40683679)
      Non rhetorical question: How much worse is mining and processing the equivalent ore?
      • by sohmc (595388)

        It's not so much whether something is worse but whether something is more profitable.

        As far as know, there aren't easy ways to get these rare elements out of electronics. The ways are expensive per device. It suffers the same problem as recycling did back in the 80's. The technology wasn't there to automate it.

        I imagine that it's much simpler and easier (thus more profitable) to find the raw materials in the earth and then mine them. That technology is around now. But actually reclaiming the metals fro

      • It may sound bad if you consider the fact that that 320 ton figure is actually complete bullshit, I'd say mining is more cost effective. They're claiming 1/5th of all gold mined in a year on Earth goes into putting an impossibly thing electroplated coat of gold onto contact pins. You could probably build 100 ipads with the gold from 1 wedding ring so I'm not so sure their estimate is anywhere near reality.

        The last time I saw someone get gold out of about a dozen really old processors like AMD K6 chips,
        • I sold 500 pentium chips described in the auction as most having bent pins for $200 on ebay... I assume that person somehow made a profit...

  • Recycling is not only Gold and silver there are many other toxic components in our hardware.
    and it certainly cost a lot to safely remove all of them.
    • Re:Prices (Score:5, Interesting)

      by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:35AM (#40683555)

      Noble metal refineries can out multiple components from ores and make a profit. Materials are enriched in our gadgets when compared to ore. I'm sure there is actually money to be made here.

      • True, but they would then be responsible for the waste left over.

      • by moeinvt (851793)

        "Materials are enriched in our gadgets when compared to ore."

        True, but ore doesn't contain all the hazardous chemicals that exist in electronics. Dealing with the nasty by-products (i.e. safely) is going to be the major expense in this business. As the article describes,

        "...the widely-reported practice of burning cables and printed wiring boards to recover the metals they contain..."

        Releases all sorts of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals. I cringe just to think about it.

        IMO, the only way to make this

        • Meh, true. But such refining processes typically deal with loads of elements anyway, and they use strong acids to extract stuff out, or to create an electrolyte or so.
          What nasty by-products are you talking about anyway? And how are those produced now?

          Regarding to the whole recycling: it's all a matter of scale. A really large process will create large enough waste streams that it is worth it to purify those too.

  • Yeehaw! (Score:5, Funny)

    by jpate (1356395) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:29AM (#40683533) Homepage
    There's gold in them thar fills!
    • by trout007 (975317)

      That's funny but also a good point. Landfills are just temporary. We fill them up with things that aren't worth recycling. But someday when material prices get high enough it make make economic sense to mine the landfills. A smart owner would at least try somewhat to segregate the waste to different pits so that they are easier to mine.

      In the not so distant future recycling will be done at a molecular level and this will all go away.

  • Stupid article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 1u3hr (530656) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:34AM (#40683553)
    Yeah, there are millions of tons of gold dissolved in the Pacific Ocean. "going to waste" too.

    Not a single figure in TFA to say how much it would cost to recover a few grams of gold from each device. Or what toxic sludge would be left and how much it would cost to deal with that.

    People dealing with e-waste KNOW THERE IS GOLD IN IT. They're not idiots. If they could recover it and make a profit, they'd be doing it. They don't need some twat to tell them "Hey, you're throwing away gold!".

    • Exactly.
      The main problem is that there are so many models of iStuff and e-stuff that it's impossible to standardize the process of recovering valuable parts of it.
      Planned obsolescence is a bitch, and we're only beginning to understand what the related problems are.

      Ooooohhh, shiny! The new Panasonic DMC-LX7 is out, with a new sensor and a 24mm f/1.4 lens? Let's ditch my shitty LX5!
      What was I saying?

      • by quadrox (1174915)

        Thanks for reminding me, I gave away my old LX3 to my brother since I didn't use it much after I got my DSLR. But now this LX7 looks quite nifty indeed!

      • The main problem is that there are so many models of iStuff and e-stuff that it's impossible to standardize the process of recovering valuable parts of it.

        Actually, there is - grind the stuff to powder, and separate all the interesting bits chemically.

        There's two main problems with this process however... First, there's very little interesting bits in any given device, so unless you're a high volume operation it's impossible to recoup your capital costs. Second, overall it's an expensive process d

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Old electronic scrap is big business already.

      But what holds it back is not as much the recovery technology, but the labour needed to collect and dismantle the scrap. Collection is a major issue actually, as this scrap appears all over the place. There is no "gold mine" type concentration, it has to be scavenged from households - and most have such waste only now and then.

      • by jafiwam (310805)

        We need to inject the idea that e-waste collection is worth it into the Meth-heads. Then households just gotta take the stuff to the curb and let the skinnies pick it up.

        Heck, legalize Meth at the drop off stations and let them buy and use (can't carry) the stuff there. Problem solved over night.

        The real problem with this is back-end user fees. I bet someone doing a little research could show how much of that stuff gets serendipitously stashed in the garbage stream by someone left with 3 CRT monitors

        • by swb (14022)

          I think the disposal fees should instead be collected as an excise tax on the importer/manufacturer of the devices rather than the retail consumer.

          This rolls the cost of disposal directly into the cost of the product, regardless of the point of purchase, and doesn't become another added "tax" that people see on a receipt and then wrangle to evade.

          I'm also paranoid that retailers would see it as an excuse to mimic airlines or banks and start tacking on other, bogus fees every time you bought something. Gree

      • by ATMAvatar (648864)
        That depends on the area. My city council organizes electronics recycling events several times a year, which takes in an increasing amount of old equipment. The last event net somewhere between 3-4 semi truck trailers full. The city does it to slow our landfill growth, and the business they partner with does it precisely because the large concentration of electronics collected in one, short event makes it profitable for them.
        • My county finally got the right idea a couple of years ago and quit charging for electronics at the recycle center. Once they did that I got rid of a bunch of old equipment that I was slowly taking up to my dad's house so he could dispose of it for free. I also like that my counties recycle center will let you take stuff if you want it and have a free chemicals area. I haven't bought solvents in years, and was lucky enough to find some muritic acid there when I was doing some concrete repair on patio. I als
    • E-waste is being recovered on a large scale. Anything looking like a circuit board is simply added to the copper refining process. All the precious metals are getting amalgamated into the raw copper, and recovered during the copper refining process. The problem is not the reclamation of the material once it has been collected, but the collection and dismantling processes. The only way to get a decent return rate is by either making it mandatory to drop off stuff at a recycling center or by offering incen
    • To retrieve gold off gold-rich processor pins is approximately 60:1 on expense vs costs in the small scale and about 10:1 on a large industrial scale.
    • My neighbor collects trailer-truckloads of old electronics, sorts the parts, and sells them off to some company in Germany I think. He said it was one of the largest recyclers. It has overhead, but the metals (not just gold) that they get from electronics can make him about $10k per load. OK, so not HUGE big business, but the larger the scale, the more efficient it becomes and the more money you can make. You can't really make anything off of a few parts.

      I had another insane neighbor about 5 houses down

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:57AM (#40683667)

    C'mon, y'all 'fess up! Your e-waste never becomes e-waste, because it is stuffed into drawers, closets, basements, or the rusty Chevy up on cinder blocks on the front lawn, like me. It could be a magnetic storage disk with the diameter of a Flying Saucer, and I still won't throw it away. That 'ole PCMCIA IBM Token Ring card? I'll be glad someday that I have that bastard!

    Hans Reiser proved his own guilt when he claimed that he threw away his car seat.

    Geeks don't toss out nuthin'!

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      I get rid of anything I don't think I can sell, except cables. Every single time I get rid of a cable I end up needing it.

      • by Inda (580031)
        I used to save cables. Then I gave a VGA cable to a friend. He connected his laptop to his TV. It worked fine for an hour. Then I left him to it.

        The next day he was pissed. The TV had stopped displaying pictures. He'd mashed the remote a billion times trying to get it to work. He'd fucked all the defaults.

        It was obviously all my fault.

        The cable was old and broken. I felt guilty enough to buy him a brand new one.

        Friends don't give friends cables.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Friends don't give friends cables.

          No, of course not. If I give them away, what will I do when I need them?

    • by Chatsubo (807023)

      Yeah but you're always glad on that idle sunday afternoon when you suddenly realise having a character LCD would be "so cool" for the thing you happen to be hacking together, you walk to the cupboard to find there's one just sitting there... begging to be ripped out of that old equipment.

      I often keep old/damaged stuff around just for assorted LED's, switches, connectors, etc. etc... The point is neither the cost nor the time. It's that I never anticipate that random moment I'm going to realise I need it. T

    • You don't have a wife do you. They will make you get rid of stuff.
      • by tzot (834456)

        Amen to that. If this isn't one of the planet-wide fundamental truths, I don't know what is.

  • by daem0n1x (748565) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @04:57AM (#40683669)

    I saw a very nice documentary the other day showing what happens to a lot of our electronic waste. A fair share of it is shipped to Nigeria! There, people repair all the devices they can and sell it in a huge street market, the largest electronic market in the world. This means that a huge lot of electronic devices get to be used again instead of polluting the environment, and all the Nigerians have cheap cell phones, laptops, TVs and DVD players. Stuff that we consider outdated, they use with pride. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

    We in the West are too pampered for our own good. I have a huge 16:9 CRT TV that works perfectly. I don't know anyone that still uses CRTs. I won't waste my money on an LCD TV before my current set breaks down. But most of people I know ditched perfectly good TV sets to replace them with LCDs. The same with cell phones, laptops, and even fridges, washing machines, or even cars!

    Even when the devices don't get a second life, I can't believe it's cheaper to dig millions of tons of rock to extract metals and other shit than it is to recycle our trash. I don't know about the USA, but here in Europe we recycle most of our waste. Be it paper, plastic, metals, fluorescent bulbs, all kinds of oils and fats, electronic devices, everything gets recycled.

    • by acidfast7 (551610) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @05:26AM (#40683803)

      As fellow European, I think you need to really think about your statement: "we recycle most of our waste." What really constitutes recycling of an electronic product? My guess is that it goes to a European "recycling firm" and gets exported to a Chinese/Indian "recycling firm", which then sends it to a Chinese/Indian village for possible gold/silver extraction and minimal labor cost. The remainder of the product just lies in a pile in the village ... or is buried in the village. I'm sure that it makes you/us feel all shiny inside to say you/we "recycle" something but the only difference is where the wasted end product ends up.

      Also, I lived in Stockholm until 2010 and was still using Bang & Olufsen BeoVision CRT every day because the picture was hard to beat :D

    • by BlueStrat (756137) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @05:29AM (#40683823)

      I can't believe it's cheaper to dig millions of tons of rock to extract metals and other shit than it is to recycle our trash.

      The problem in the US is that complying with the myriad environmental regulations, which were passed to protect the environment, makes the cost of dealing with all the toxic compounds that are produced and/or freed during the process of a high-yield-percentage recycling program, especially for electronics, exceed what they can recover.

      Unintended consequences are a bitch.

      Strat

      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        The problem in the US is that complying with the myriad environmental regulations, which were passed to protect the environment, makes the cost of dealing with all the toxic compounds that are produced and/or freed during the process of a high-yield-percentage recycling program, especially for electronics, exceed what they can recover.

        That also happens for mining and industry. That's why we outsource them to third-world countries, where people work in the most wretched conditions for a shit pay and dump all the waste in the environment. It doesn't get any cheaper than that. Out of sight, out of mind. However, it may appear to be cheaper, but in the long run, it will bite us in the ass eventually, as always.

        Now, we have two options, we can drop our environmental and labour regulations and live happily in a festering shithole, or we can

        • Now, we have two options, we can drop our environmental and labour regulations and live happily in a festering shithole, or we can demand those poor countries to abide to safety and environmental standards.

          So in this case, the US should force it's values on other countries?

          Also, you don't think there is any middle ground for reducing or better thinking our current regulations?

          • by daem0n1x (748565)

            So in this case, the US should force it's values on other countries?

            Absolutely NOT! When has the US done anything like that???

            You can choose what you buy, can't you? The other countries are free to choose, if they want to produce stuff that damages the environment, they can sell it to anyone else.

            Also, you don't think there is any middle ground for reducing or better thinking our current regulations?

            No I don't. Current regulations are not even enough. Economical activities use the environment as if it was free. It's not. It provides extremely valuable services, without which human life would not be possible. As in any trade activity, those services have a cost. You can't

            • by BlueStrat (756137)

              You can choose what you buy, can't you? The other countries are free to choose, if they want to produce stuff that damages the environment, they can sell it to anyone else.

              Oh, so we should just outsource our negative externalities to other places with those brown/yellow-skinned people living in poverty?

              How very cosmopolitan of you.

              Also, you don't think there is any middle ground for reducing or better thinking our current regulations?

              No I don't. Current regulations are not even enough.

              That's the way comrade! No compromise, no retreat! Gaia must be cleansed of this evil technology and industry! Hunter-gatherer society, FTW!

              You're on the drugs, aren't you?

              Strat

          • by skids (119237)

            So in this case, the US should force it's values on other countries

            Either that, or deal with the resulting military cost of protecting our interests during the inevitable social unrest results from environmental contamination by the establishment forces in those countries.. as already happens in China, though so far this has presented us with little economic threat to U.S. interests.

            You can only shit around for so long before the locals get pretty fed up with living in the shit.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @06:14AM (#40684071)

        Yes, because allowing recycling businesses to create a toxic sludge and bury it in your neighborhood will carry no long-term costs. Regulations are in place to try and force businesses to own their costs instead of passing them on to the general population in the form of poluted air, water and in the longer term increased health care costs.

        Perhaps if businesses were held accountable for the the full lifetime of their products, they would innovate more environmentally friendly products, or at least products that could be dismantled and recycled easier.

        • by BlueStrat (756137)

          Perhaps if businesses were held accountable for the the full lifetime of their products, they would innovate more environmentally friendly products, or at least products that could be dismantled and recycled easier.

          Or they could decide, after comparing risk/reward and cost/benefit, that investing in research, development, and manufacturing of tech products just isn't worth it, sell off their factories and assets, and go into making shoelaces or something instead, or simply stick their capital in offshore accounts and collect interest.

          Congratulations! You've just killed the tech industry and crippled the entire species' technological development.

          Unintended consequences are a bitch

          Or do you prefer everyone live in an ag

        • by khallow (566160)

          Perhaps if businesses were held accountable for the the full lifetime of their products, they would innovate more environmentally friendly products, or at least products that could be dismantled and recycled easier.

          As long as you're on the hook for your share of the full lifetime costs of their products. Let's keep in mind that a lot of those costs aren't due to the products or their hazards, but how people like you decided those products should be used and disposed of.

          You should be coughing up personally for the recycling program rather than passing those costs on to businesses and their customers, for example. After all, all that stuff could be shipped cheaply to Nigeria.

          I find the hypocrisy of the modern envi

        • by cdrguru (88047)

          You are missing the point. There is a simple way to deal with all of this. Bury the electronic item and in 500,000 years the gold and other materials will have been recycled and available as ore again.

          This potentially leads to a boom-and-bust cycle where all the ore is extracted and made into nifty devices over a 200 year period and then everyone gets to sit and wait for the natual recycling processes to result in ore again - in 499,800 years.

          I guess you just have to take the long view.

    • by TummyX (84871) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @06:33AM (#40684185)

      Do you realise how much power that 16:9 CRT draws compared to an LED TV?

      • by daem0n1x (748565)
        Yes, I do. Still, it's a lot cheaper than buying a new TV. When it breaks, I'll buy an LCD. And my old CRT will probably make the delights of a family living in a slum in Lagos.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Do you realise how much power that 16:9 CRT draws compared to an LED TV?

        Do you realise how much energy it takes to manufacture, package and ship that new LED TV?

        • by Kookus (653170)

          less to package and ship than a crt

        • by Tailhook (98486)

          Do you realise how much energy it takes

          Very little — in terms of cost. The energy is produced at low cost in places devoid of meaningful regulatory oversight and the finished product is sent to me duty free on a boat. This arrangement enables me to be an uncompromising and morally scrupulous advocate of each and every existing or proposed limit on domestic industry while still enjoying the benefits of industrial production.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @08:12AM (#40684969) Journal

        Do you realize that you can't play Duck Hunt on an LCD?

      • Also, it makes a high pitched noise that harms your ears and the refresh flicker damages your eyes, costing you and/or the US government money in health care. Other than that, I'm sure it's great.
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      And then, once repaired, are used to spend spam/spam emails!
      Excused me, I am a Nigerian prince usering a recycled celphone. If you would be so kind to acceppt this check and sends a small cashing fee....
    • by moeinvt (851793)

      "I saw a very nice documentary the other day showing what happens to a lot of our electronic waste."

      Me too. It gets shipped to Ghana and India where people burn it (or what's left over after they physically dismantle it) in open fires to reclaim the metals.

      I'd love to believe that a significant amount of this stuff goes to people who can use it, but I don't. The "used merchandise" label is often just an excuse to dump trash in 3rd world landfills.

      http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/features/po [greenpeace.org]

      • by daem0n1x (748565)

        I also saw one in 60 minutes about a town in China called Guiyu where most of worldwide electronic trash is sent to. It's a horrible place. They also do that burning thing, too. The soil has nearly deadly concentrations of heavy metals and poisons. The filming crew was kicked out of the place by thugs when someone noticed them.

        I was trying to give a good example of the value of electronic waste. The Nigeria case I saw is a great example of ingenuity and efficiency. Unfortunately, Guiyu, India and Ghana a

    • 16:9 HD CRTs regularly show up at thrift stores around here for $20. They even have HDMI ports on them. I have also been noticing a surge of P4/Athlon era motherboards on ebay.... from China. I am beginning to suspect they are e-waste pulls being resold back to the US!
    • by antdude (79039)

      Ditto. I still use my Toshiba VCR, 20" Sharp CRT TV, etc. but it's rare these days. I even wear my Casio Data Bank 150 calculator watch! They still work for me. :)

    • Completely with you on keeping electronic goods until they break HOWEVER - what is the cost of property per square metre/foot in you area?

      When you are looking at expensive cities/areas (over $10,000 for 1m^2) replacing a large CRT with an LCD/Plasma makes a LOT of sense...
    • Well, well, well. Quite frustratingly, the gentleman who wrote TFA actually cites a group which presented (along with Fair Trade Recycling groups) to the Pan African congress in March 2012. And the jist of the actual presentations he cites is that the hand-disassembly is good. The "geeks of color" (repair and reuse) jobs in Lagos and Accra, which were studied from 2010-2011, are actually quite good jobs. Most of them are in reuse and repair, and the studies Mr. Halloway would appear to have read state th
  • Better than gold ore (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @05:11AM (#40683727)

    The swedish Boliden built an new facitlity in order to extract gold and other metals from e-waste. E-waste yields 100g/1000kg of material compared to 8g/1000kg of ore.

    http://www.boliden.com/Press/News/2012/New-facility-makes-Boliden-world-leader/

    • by mangu (126918) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @07:01AM (#40684373)

      E-waste yields 100g/1000kg of material compared to 8g/1000kg of ore.

      Only for some definitions of "E-waste".

      That amount you mentioned is after you remove the circuit boards from its enclosure. The bitch is taking apart the enclosure.

      Each piece of equipment is closed with a different kind of fastener, some, like Apple, are glued together. It takes a lot of labor to pry apart the circuit board from the plastic and metal structures around it. That's why recycling is outsourced to third world countries.

      If the government really wanted to increase recycling, the first thing they should regulate would be how enclosures are put together. Make philips type screws mandatory everywhere, no glue, torx screws, or any other fastener that requires special tools.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If the government really wanted to increase recycling, the first thing they should regulate would be how enclosures are put together. Make philips type screws mandatory everywhere, no glue, torx screws, or any other fastener that requires special tools.

        "No glue" is enough. It's not difficult or even expensive to get all the tools any more, you can order direct from China now, remember? No need to buy from Sears that has stuff made in China.

        • i have next to me a set of "security" bits from Harbor Freight Tools that set me back ten bucks all it is missing is the iStar bits so NO GLUE is good enough (philips heads strip too easily).

          • by bosef1 (208943)

            I would like to second the motion that the screw-heads be other than Phillips. I like that that Phillips cruciform shape keeps the drive bit from sliding off the screw, but I feel like I've stripped more screw heads from Phillip's "cam-out" than I've broken screws or drivers from over-tightening.

      • If the government really wanted to increase recycling, the first thing they should regulate would be how enclosures are put together. Make philips type screws mandatory everywhere, no glue, torx screws, or any other fastener that requires special tools.

        Because phillips head screws are there for one reason, to cam out and strip rather than damage what they go into for easy use by machines. Otherwise they are a crappy type of screw. If you consider torx special tools, I'm really surprised that you also don't consider anything besides a flat head as special. Even then, there are different sizes and you'd still have to go buy a special kit to get the small ones to get into something. Really, torx and robertson heads have been in every cheap changable screwdri

    • Of course soil isn't stuffed full of Mercury, Arsenic, Lead, plastics, glass fibers, electrolytic fluid, magnets, etc. It's mostly silicates aka dirt :-P
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @05:42AM (#40683889) Homepage

    What matter if a handful, or I dare say more than a handful, of the undeserving poor be obliged to toil in the Reclamation Mines? To what better use can they put their meagre bodies than to serving their fellow Man by prying the riches of El Dorada from the cast offs of their betters?

    Indeed, it shall doubtless enrich their souls, even as it puts food in their swollen, suppurating bellies, and seven toes on their endless broods of mewling, conjoined offspring. Two heads, it is said, are better than one, and many of our Reclamation Miners shall grow to enjoy those benefits first-hand.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      So DON'T send them work, which is what e-waste represents to THEM.

      The choice of overpopulation means that there will never be good, safe jobs for everyone.

      Industrial Revolutions are paid for in blood just like armed revolutions, sometimes with more casualties.

      We EUSians are sitting pretty because our predecessors were expendable. They died in the mines, on the railroads, in the fields they sharecropped, and in industrial accidents. When it became affordable to take better care of workers in DEVELOPED societ

  • $16 billion will buy 10.11 tons of gold at current prices.
    • That 320 ton number is also bullshit, just case you didn't catch that. That's 1/5 the amount that Earth mines in a year total and considering jewelry vs a CPU uses approx $0.15 in gold, I think someone pulled that number out of their ass.
  • It really isn't worth it to get scrap gold from plated items including CPUs and motherboards. Tom's Hardware did a thing on how to do it and I tried it only to come up with a tiny chunk of gold (if 100% pure still only worth about $4 today). Industrially it may be possible to get gold/silver but I'm not sure how economically viable it is due to labor being very expensive and it being a labor intensive process.

    When it comes down to it, if you have to pay to recycle something, the recycling is not economi
  • I wonder if education might help here. We all have a lot of mis-placed vanity, and I wonder if knowing more about what's involved in our purchase might help slow us down a bit.

    Just this morning I was looking for short, cheap optical cables. I found this one and had a little chuckle to myself:

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Resolution-Professional-suitable-HD-Surround/dp/B003F60WWM/ref=sr_1_7?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1342613690&sr=1-7 [amazon.co.uk]

    Yep, it's a 24ct gold plated optical cable. I'll bet it's just a crapp

  • If you look at the dollar value of materials in a cell phone, and then compare it to just the labor cost of thowing it into a machine, I think the plan will fall apart. While tons of precious metals sounds like an opportunity, getting it out of millions of devices may cost more than that. I really can't say, as I'm not familiar with the recovery process. If it's so profitable, stop writing about it and get going!
  • I actually do this (Score:4, Informative)

    by Hunter Shoptaw (2655515) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @08:21AM (#40685031)
    I work for a company that takes care of e-waste. The problem we face is that many times we are outbid by companies that then ship the waste off shore or simply stripped and tossed. The company I work for actually has teams in our warehouse that comb through every piece and find pieces that are available for resale. Those pieces that aren't are them dismantled, categorized and shipped to certified recyclers so that each and every piece that can possibly be recycled is. We even recycle most of our shipping materials. There are costs associated with recycling your systems, sure, but it's better than paying the EPA fines if your caught even once. Also, some recyclers, including the one I work for, will actually pay you for your electronics in some cases, depending on type and condition. Many times there are lots of things that we could be doing differently as a society to increase our ecologic awareness and minimize our e-waste impact. We simply don't because it's not the most convenient option. As I'm not trying to plug my company, I'll leave out the name. If your interested ask for it in the comments.
    • I'm interested. I have boxes of circuit boards, immersion-gold-plated, that I'd like to get rid of. About 1/3 are either stripped of major components or bare, the other 2/3 have discretes and a few IC's.

    • by retroworks (652802) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @02:56PM (#40689661) Homepage Journal
      I actually do this, too. And I export a good percentage which would be specifically banned for export under the legislation which the article says is "stalled". This legislation was profiled in Slashdot earlier this year. http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/12/02/12/1431208/its-not-all-waste-the-complicated-life-of-surplus-electronics-in-africa [slashdot.org] The UNEP studies found that 80% of the goods exported to Africa were reused. The bans against imports came from dictatorships in places like Egypt. The best solution to the problem is Fair Trade Recycling, which is a threat to Redemtech and other financial sponsors of the bill in question, who want to ban other countries from competing for proper reuse and recycling of used goods. Most of the goods shown at the dumps in Africa and Asia (by anti-export groups) were used productively for years in those countries before they were discarded, most USA and EU electronics are domestically recycled, and most of the remainder which are exported (85%) work. This is an anti-reuse (planned obsolescence) campaign rigged to look like an environmental protest.
  • I don't think the article writer has any idea how much the waste costs to recycle. If the cost to extract the metals and whatnot is more than the price of them on the market, there is no financial incentive to recycle them. It's not like you just toss it in a wood chipper and centrifuge the stuff out.

  • by slashmydots (2189826) on Wednesday July 18, 2012 @09:51AM (#40686041)
    All humans total mine approximately 1714 tons of gold per year in the entire world so I have a hard time believing that 500-micron thick electroplated electronic contact pins result in 320 tons like the article states. Consider how many solid gold rings are made in jewelry stores in every country in the world and how almost every married person has one, it's probably closer to a 10000:1 ratio instead of 5:1 like the article implies.
  • I want no part of that business, the regulations would be a absolute nightmare.

  • Anyone hear the story about that guy in New York city who walks around the sidewalks with a metal detector and finds a couple hundred dollars a day in gold earrings and chain links and stuff that people drop? Sounds like the greenest way to recover gold to me. I think he nicknamed it urban mining.
  • These guys have been in the ewaste business for a long time, and have developed and patented (I know that's a bad word here on /. but whatever) a lot of processes around extracting value from eWaste.

    http://redemtech.com/ [redemtech.com]

    tl;dr version - the capacity is there. Companies just need to start using it.

    In all likelihood, companies will not follow the processes unless mandated to do so by the government. Even then it will only happen after a few of their competitors are hit with multi-million dollar fines for not

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