back to article UN: E-waste's 42 million tonnes represents 'valuable' (and ‘toxic’) urban mine

Around three million tonnes of unwanted mobile phones, personal computers, and printers were tossed onto the world's scrapheap last year, according to a report by the United Nations. That is the equivalent of around 214 billion mobile phones, or 1.2 billion laptops. However, ICT rubbish paled into insignificance compared with …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That sure is a lot of Android phones!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And iStuff with batteries glued in (just for balance y'know)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Isn't there an EU directive requiring manufacturers to bear the cost of recycling. SO while Germany may have tipped a lot of goods most will have been recycled.

        Of course not having a "throw away society" would be even better.

  2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

    Economics 101

    Sure that's a lot of valuable, potentially recoverable resources, but it's not like it's all in one nice concentrated ore deposit now is it? Spread out all over the place, the economics of recovery don't seem very favourable. If it was worth doing en masse, chances are someone would already be doing it and hoovering up as much e-waste as they could get the eco-mits on. Thus we would not be seeing this problem and the UN wouldn't be wasting their time mentioning it.

    The very fact the UN has even noticed suggests it's not commercially viable to attempt recovery on any sort of scale. Therefore it seems likely that we'll continue to recycle the easily recoverable stuff like the aluminium and steel from large appliances, which is good, and continue to send giant barges full of the crap we can't be arsed with to the third world, which is bad.

    Note I do not agree with dumping our crap on the rest of the planet, just saying it how it seems. I take my dead electrical/electronic stuff to the local tip for recycling. What happens from there is entirely out of my hands.

    1. Montreux

      Re: Economics 101

      I would use the example of domestic recycling in the UK to argue the opposite. 20 years ago we recycled nothing except the valuable and easy to recycle aluminium drinks cans and glass bottles. We didn't recycle everything else, not because manufacturers wouldn't buy recycled raw materials, but because it required scale and infrastructure to do so. This was too big a hurdle for any private company to overcome. The push of legislation, which vastly increased the cost of landfill, caused all councils to try and solve the same problem at the same time. Therefore we got over the hurdle and ended up with a well functioning and financially viable capability for domestic recycling.

      I don't know what is going to happen with the WEEE stuff, but a bit of pressure and lots of people trying to solve the same problem could lead to a similar solution.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Economics 101

        "Therefore we got over the hurdle and ended up with a well functioning and financially viable capability for domestic recycling."

        Ah yes, financially viable. I remember that, before the China-led super cycle came to an end, and the price of commodities and oil dropped through the floor. Now the plastic recyclers are all in trouble, along with scrap dealers, but the rules are set to continue to mandate this "valuable" recycling.

        But why? The materials came out of the earth, if it is not inherently economic to recycle them without the "assistance" of lawmakers, why bother? In a modern landfill electrical waste is less of a problem than many naturally occurring minerals. If industry want to recycle things fine, but recycling for recycling's sake is more expensive for no obvious benefit.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

    Washing machines typically contain large concrete blocks to give them stability during spin cycle. Is this included?

    If we exclude this ballast, the proportion attributable to smartphones and the like increases proportionately.

    ISTM that the low-hanging fruit here is to recycle the steel enclosures from white goods. Then what you are left with is the toxic electronics.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

      and the copper from the motors.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

      Washing machines typically contain large concrete blocks

      We replaced our previous washing machine a couple of years ago. It was 15 years old and still worked well but a power surge destroyed it and anything else that wasn't plugged into a surge protector. But I digress.

      The new washing machine doesn't have an concrete content. Balance during spin is maintained by four weighted and sprung steel rods.

      As for electronic waste, we store all our old dead crap in the shed rather than dump it.

      1. enormous cow turd

        Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

        @Mahatma, So your landfill is in your back garden rather than out of town - you're potentially sitting on a gold mine (add to that tin/copper/silver) ;-) Probably a good idea, pass it on to the kids - one day future generations will be mining the old landfills to recover all those valuable metals and minerals. Once technology has made separation cheap enough and demand is high enough....

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Dwarf Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

        I take it you've not seen the concrete recycling machines that they use to recycle buildings then ?

        A small block from a washing machine would be like an after dinner mint to such a machine.

        Google Concrete Crusher.

        1. earl grey
          Trollface

          Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

          would that be a wafer thin mint?

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Dan Paul

            Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

            1980's Coder

            Crushed concrete (IE: Just Gravel) is infinitely recyclable into more new concrete.

        3. montyburns56

          Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

          "Google Concrete Crusher."

          Wow, those Mount View boys are really diversifying these days aren't they?

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: "11.8 million tonnes from washing machines"

        Compared to anything else, I would think that a lump of concrete in an old washing machine is a relatively minor issue.

  4. chivo243 Silver badge

    there's a movie plot in this

    Mining an old burned out planet for the things previous generations have jettisoned.... it sells itself!

    1. Paul Kinsler Silver badge

      Re: Mining [a] planet for the things previous generations have jettisoned

      I think you've just invented the fossil fuel industry :-)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: there's a movie plot in this

      I think this post deserves to be sent into Oblivion.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Ru'

    We (weee?) need to discard all this stuff in landfills in order to give future beings a nice concentrated source of goodies to mine. After all, the dinosaurs did it for us, discarding their unwanted plankton and plant matter...

  7. Mark 85 Silver badge

    This whole thing about e-waste is interesting and seems to be fraught with scare tactics. I see they're lumping different appliances including vacuum cleaners and laundry appliances into the mix. By the time, say a washer is stripped of the steel and motor, which they do, there's not much left in the way of electronic componentry. Even toasters are now tossed into the scrap metal pile for melting down and re-use.

    Given what they're calling "e-waste", it looks to me like they're trying to inflate the numbers....

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Dan Paul

      Yes, Scare Tactics with everything recycling related

      As with anything related to Recycling or the Environment; the Greens can't tell the simple truth because they have been telling the "Big Lie" for so long, they don't know any other way to do it.

      If you look at modern appliances (White Goods) there is only a fairly small circuit board in a basic washer, dryer or stove. That leaves the motor. The rest is mostly the outer shell and drum.

      This increases on an "Energy Efficient" model as they now have speed drives and other circuitry.

      Still, by weight the "E" waste is only a very small proportion of the overall weight (Hardly 2-5%) that is being reported as it includes the whole assembly not just the electronics portion.

      To my mind, this is very disingenuous and negatively colors any opinion that I might have of the data

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Yes, Scare Tactics with everything recycling related

        Dan, go back 20-30 years. Remember the "get plastic bags and save a tree" campaigns they ran? Now it's back to "use paper bags because the plastic ones don't decompose". The Greens really have no clue of which they speak. It's pure emotionalism and logic goes out the window.

        1. enormous cow turd

          Re: Yes, Scare Tactics with everything recycling related

          @Mark 85, Yes the greens are clueless - they inadvertently caused Man Made Global Warming by successfully campaigning against Nuclear

  8. Crazy Operations Guy

    "The US and China between them discarded nearly one-third of the world’s total e-waste."

    Well, I'd think that has more to do with those two countries containing just over a quarter of the world's population than anything else and a vast majority of the world's industry... A more interesting number might be the amount of trash is produced per-capita in relation to other countries with corrections made for industrial waste produced for an item ultimately consumed in another country (So the figure for a television thrown away in Sweden includes the waste that item created when it was produced in China so that a country wouldn't skew the results because it doesn't produce anything)

  9. gregthecanuck

    Canada seems to be doing OK on the e-waste front...

    Whenever we buy a new item here in British Columbia we are now (grudgingly) charged an "Environmental Handling Fee" that varies anywhere from $0.40 to over $50.00 depending on the item.

    At time of disposal these items are returned to recycling centres where they are responsibly managed. Seems to be working OK.

    Link to more info for this interested: https://www.return-it.ca/electronics/recycling/

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