Waste is worth something – the rise of the urban mining revolution

Old and broken electronic products are discarded and end up in landfills where they form part of toxic waste. The rise in e-waste has resulted in an industry known as urban mining, which is essentially a type of beneficiation involving the extraction of value from the e-waste stream. With the rise of urban mining, people are finding that discarded products can be refined to retrieve precious metals.

The growing use of technology in our daily lives means that more and more electronic gadgets form part of our world. With rising production costs, depletion of natural resources and increasing legislative pressures around the recycling of electronic waste, industrial recycling, or urban mining, has the potential to become an important contributor to our overall future supply.

With more companies adopting the circular economy as a way to ensure sustainability, urban mining could play a major role in the supply of resources in the long term. According to the United Nations Environmental programme, every year about 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated globally. In South Africa the goal is to raise awareness of the value that can be gained from ‘mining’ e-waste. Speaking at the Youth in Mining Summit, Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, said that urban mining presented numerous prospects for young people to use urban waste to manufacture saleable products.

Urban mining provides an opportunity to reclaim and recycle precious metals and rare earth elements that are used in most electronic goods. E-waste, like any other waste stream, is as a result of human activity and the way we conduct ourselves in the environment. Effort is needed to ensure that the potential of urban mining is used to its full realisation.

Although urban mining in South Africa is in its infancy, many have found the opportunity in waste and seen the benefits from recycling e-waste, resulting in job creation, entrepreneurial opportunities and upliftment of communities.