This Essay and Market Analysis on the future of e-waste examines the costly environmental harm posed by this issue, but also the economic possibilties that may incentivize solutions, including recycling and the reclamation of precious metals.
By Aishwarya Korgaonkar of Research Dive
Rising technological advances across the globe have surged the accumulation of electronic waste, and thus developed both challenges as well as opportunities in its recycling. As e-waste endures to deluge our waste channels, the inappropriate dumping of electronics – mainly cell phones and PCs – is an enormous hazard to the environment.
Advanced electronics are a treasure trove of precious metals. Extracting precious metals from these items is not only profitable financially, but also in terms of environment safety.
Development of novel recycling technologies for e-waste has been significantly proven advantageous to the environment. Today’s recycling technologies make sure that e-waste is treated in an ecofriendly way, with high efficacy and reduced carbon footprint, at an affordable cost.
Considering the global depletion of natural resources, these advanced recycling technologies offer various benefits such as increased energy efficacy and reduced demand for mining of new raw materials.
Recovering precious metals from e-waste is an environmentally sound practice and much more affordable than pulling out these metals from mines.
No matter what the industry is, novel technologies are ultimately going to up the game of every business apparently. Rising technological advances across the globe have surged the accumulation of electronic waste, and thus developed both challenges as well as opportunities in its recycling. As e-waste endures to deluge the waste channels, the inappropriate dumping of electronics – mainly cell phones and PCs – is an enormous hazard to the environment.
Advanced electronics are a treasure trove of precious metals. Extracting precious metals from these items is not only financially profitable, but also beneficial in terms of environment safety. Development of novel recycling technologies for e-waste has been significantly proven advantageous to the environment. Hence, a massive demand for precious metals e-waste recovery processes is being observed in the recent years. As per a report by Research Dive, the global precious metals e-waste recovery market is projected to grow with a CAGR of 4.7% from 2020 to 2027.
Growing E-Waste Generation
A variety of products and industries need precious metals in their manufacturing processes. These metals are normally used as filaments and critical contact points that conduct electricity in electronic products. As these natural resources are so valuable, they can be quite expensive. Precious metals like palladium, platinum, and iridium are used as catalysts in an extensive array of industrial sectors such as the automotive and chemical industries. Also, there are other crucial metals including nickel, copper, and aluminum which are used in wiring, casings, and other modules of a computer or cell phone.
As per the World Economic Forum, in the U.S., the recycling rate of e-waste soars by nearly 25% in 2019. The remaining 75% of the total e-waste is deposited in several places owing to a dearth of suitable recycling alternatives. However, the e-waste that is being produced in the recent years is brimming with precious metals, all of which can be recuperated and reprocessed for various applications in future. For instance, around 53.6 million tons of electronic waste was produced globally in 2019, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. The raw materials in this e-waste was about $57 billion – with copper, iron, and gold contributing a major share to this amount. However, merely a sixth of this price ($10 billion) is recuperated in an eco-friendly manner.
By making use of the right technology, the waste generated from electronic products can become a sustainable source of precious metals.
Novel Technologies to Up the Game of Precious Metal Recovery Processes
As per a research by American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science & Technology, it is found that recovering precious metals from e-waste is an environmentally sound practice and much more affordable than pulling out these metals from mines.
New practices such as plasma arc recycling are expected to help the world cater the growing demand for these metals. This technology can restore a massive amounts of platinum metal found in an automobile or other products by means of a super-hot plasma torch. Rather than mining for new ores, these metals can be simply recycled to give them a new life.
Today’s recycling technologies, however, make sure that e-waste is treated in an ecofriendly way, with high efficacy and reduced carbon footprint, at an affordable cost. For instance, Mint Innovation, a New Zealand-based start-up, has invented an affordable, biotech procedure for recovering precious metals from e-waste.Mint Innovation aims to extract these precious metals by making use of microorganisms to selectively and swiftly recover precious metals, like gold.
In April 2019, Namo E-waste Management, a Delhi-based recycler cum PRO (Producer Responsibility Organisation), which recovers precious metals like copper, aluminum, brass, and zinc from e-waste such as PCs, motherboards, cell phones, and server boards, announced about its plan to scale-up the precious metals extraction processes. The company has plans to set up a precious metal recovery plant for extracting platinum, palladium, gold, etc., from e-waste. The company intends to assimilate novel technologies to efficiently extract precious metals from e-waste in India.
Other than these innovative precious metal recycling developments, some significant trends of precious metal recycling are that the market participants must focus on innovations in bulk shredding practices, in automatically separating out metals, and in evolving parts of the smelters or refiners.
Methods Ruling the Precious Metals E-waste Recovery Arena
Currently, there are two leading methods for recycling precious metals from e-waste—one is de-manufacturing, which involves manual dismantling of the electronics so as to use the raw materials that can be recovered—and the other method is shredding, in this the electronics products are dumped into huge shredders to cut down the need to manually sort and separate the components.
Precious metals are being recovered since ages, but in the last few decades or so, development of some remarkable innovations, mainly in areas that use granulation techniques to extract more metals with less efforts, are being observed.
Some novel approaches, like the ones used by Liquisort, help in truly processing these metals in a special bath. Liquisort is an expert in the extraction of non-ferrous metals and uses a sustainable, advanced, and patented separation technique that enables sorting of a variety of metals into clean, distinct portions. Liquisort’s bath method, a granulation procedure, is a comparatively new one, and when combined with shredding processes of e-waste can significantly curtail the need for manual separation and increase the quantity of recycled metals.
After undergoing numerous separation and granulation processes, precious metals are likely to form a fine mesh or powdery-like substance. This substance is then required to be packed inside a 55 gallon drum or other containers and sent to a smelter or processing plant for melting down to create new metals. Fine mesh and powder gets melted and undergoes further separation in huge incinerators. This procedure helps in separating different metals based on quality, for instance 18 and 24 carat gold.
Once the smelting procedure is completed, the metals can then be used in various applications such as new computer components, jewelry, and others. Considering the global depletion of natural resources, these advanced recycling technologies offer various benefits such as increased energy efficacy and reduced demand for mining of new raw materials.
The Biggest Macro Trend and the Future
A new trend is being observed currently in various industries that is more focus on building smaller items. This indicates that more work is needed to obtain less product. A significant reduction in the use of large metals is observed in construction and manufacturing sector; however, a dramatic surge in the use of precious metals in computers, monitors, cell phones, televisions, and other smaller consumer electronics products is observed. In such small products, recovering precious metals becomes difficult and time consuming, especially in case of hand separation methods.
Research Dive’s report states that the outburst of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an adverse impact on the global precious metals e-waste recovery market in 2020. The implementation of nation-wide lockdowns ceased the industrial activities and transportation worldwide. This caused a major turmoil in supply chains of both raw materials and finished goods. However, as and when the pandemic relaxes, the market is expected to recover from the incurred losses and undergo an outstanding growth owing to the increasing adoption of novel metal recovery technologies by key market players in the coming years.
Author’s Bio: Aishwarya Korgaonkar holds a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from the esteemed Mumbai University. Being creative and artistic, she leaped into the field of digital marketing and content writing. Her love for words makes her write creative and spellbinding content that adds colors to the world.