The first mobile phones debuted in the early 1980s and were so bulky they needed handles to carry them. But while the devices keep getting leaner, they aren’t necessarily any greener.
The very innovations that are taking the bulk out of our electronics – like miniaturised components and gluing parts together to make the device lighter – are also making our e-waste harder to recycle.
Advances in technology means every new generation digital device has tended to be smaller, lighter and more powerful – along with the telephone came the convenience of a camera, video, TV and GPS and torch in a single tiny package.
But despite the fact that the volume, or weight, of electronics going to landfill is getting smaller, only a small percentage is being successfully recovered and re-used. According to the UN-supported Global E-Waste Monitor, just 17.4 per cent of e-waste was recycled in 2019. As a result, around US$57 billion worth of gold, silver, copper, platinum and other high-value materials – including rare earths that are often in short supply – was dumped or burned.
By 2030, the Monitor estimates e-waste will almost double 2014 levels, as more electronic gadgets are made and their lifespans get shorter because it is cheaper to buy new than repair.
Although e-waste contains valuable metals that can be recovered, it has traditionally been an expensive, labour-intensive process. In the developing world, crude methods are often used in a desperate bid to salvage the resource, putting people and the environment at dangerous risk.
Clean Earth Technologies is at the forefront of new technology that is making it possible to recover more valuable materials from the e-waste stream in a clean, efficient and economical way. Our patented sulphur polymer is used to extract precious metals, such as gold and copper, from e-waste without using toxic cyanide and strong acids and without producing harmful or unwanted by-products.