Elektronics contain a hidden treasure in the form of valuable resources. In our mobile phones, but also our computers, laptops and tablets, many rare minerals are used. The production chain of these devices is mostly non-transparant, making it hard to find out where the resources have come from and under which conditions they were mined. Used electronics are dumped in Asia and Africa, where only the most valuable resources are recycled, often in a very primitive way. In both the mining conditions and at the processing of the e-waste child labour is regularly involved.
What makes a mobile phone?
A mobile phone contains from 500 to 1.000 parts. Besides plastic and iron there are many non-ferro metals in mobile device. Mostly these are copper, aluminum and nickel. In smaller quantities they also contain gold, silver, tantalum, mercury, lead and dozens of other substances. A mobile can contain hundreds of different materials, that can change rapidly when technology further develops. Every company will try to keep its production method a secret.
What can urban mining mean?
Urban Mining is the process of reclaiming compounds and elements from products, preferably on a local basis. Many parts of a mobile phone contain valuable resources that can be re-used. 200 mobile phones contain enough gold for one wedding ring. About 93% of a phone can be recycled. This process is much easier than sourcing the same metals from mining. A metric tonne of mobiles contains 20 times the amount of gold from the same amount of gold ore. Furthermore, it is more environmental-friendly, saves recources and decreases the amount of waste.
There are excellent recycling factories that can re-use the most of our mobile phones without producing toxic emissions. But still, most devices go to third world countries where they are separated, repaired, sold, burnt or being dumped. This last practice brings a lot a harmful substances in the environment, like lead and cadmium.
Urban mining workshops
Waag Society together with FairPhone organized workshops for education, organisations or companies. In an urban mining workshop, participants found out what our mobile phones are made of and what resources they contain. In this way, we can ceate awareness for a more sustainable approach of our e-waste. The average Dutch household has at least three old mobiles lying around in some drawer, waiting to be re-used.
This project is made possible by a subsidy from the Creative Industries Fund NL.