Urban mining is defined as the process of reclaiming raw materials from products, buildings, and waste. At our e-waste recycling facility in the east end of Toronto our monthly operation reports often show wood, plastic, steel, aluminum and copper make up 30 percent or more of the materials we extract. However, we have the know-how to do much more. In fact, Sparta is now exploring urban mining of precious metals.
“Obviously, there is value in what we are recycling at our facility or we wouldn’t be doing it, but market studies show that billions worth of gold and silver are literally thrown in the trash every year and we believe that doesn’t have to be the case. Right now, we are actively developing just the right process to expand our urban mining into metals like silver, gold and platinum that have significant value with a considerable investment in a state-of-the-art recovery lab,” said John O’Bireck, President of Sparta. “While you’ve been hearing a lot more about our strategies to transform plastic and biomass into usable forms of fuel, we are still interested in Doing What’s Right when it comes to e-waste, especially when there is gold at our fingertips – literally,” he went on to say.
A lack of suitable recycling methods has hampered efforts of many recycling facilities to extract precious metals from used products but Sparta management believe they are getting closer to a sustainable way to recover precious metals from e-waste.
Aside from the fact that gold is used in jewellery, it plays an important role in industry, including electronics. Nearly one billion cell phones are produced each year and most of them contain at least 50 cents worth of gold. Silver is also found in virtually every electronic device. Society’s appetite for the latest and greatest gadgets means that the increase in demand for gold and silver is expected to continue to grow. At the end of what has turned out to be a short life, these electronics offer important recycling potential.
According to a UN-backed report, “The Global E-waste Monitor 2017,” just over 22 billion worth of gold and about one billion worth of silver was thrown away worldwide in the form of e-waste in 2016.
You might be thinking that there isn’t a lot of gold in one mobile phone. Yet, think about this – gold concentration in nature is about 5 to 6 grams for every ton of ore extracted but one tonne of mobile phones can yield as much as 350 grams of gold. When it comes to silver, components such as capacitors, transistors, old and new integrated circuits and chips, all include silver. One kilogram of 3 pin small transistors that are used in electronic circuits contain up to 20 grams of silver.
Last summer, a report by the BBC pointed out that research suggests “urban mining” of metals can be “far more profitable than traditional mining.”