What are the key resources of the cellular industry
Mining has fatal consequences for people and the environment. Recycling can counteract the negative effects: Many valuable metals lie dormant in electrical and IT equipment. The more metals that can be recycled, the fewer new raw materials have to be extracted.
An example of devices that contain many valuable metals are smartphones. The European Commission has drawn up a list of 14 particularly critical metals, including many that can be found in smartphones: for example cobalt, tantalum and rare earths - as well as other metals that have not yet been critically assessed, but still have their price, such as Copper, nickel or silver and gold. According to a study by the Öko-Institut, a smartphone contains around 306 milligrams of silver and 30 milligrams of gold, while a battery contains 6.3 grams of cobalt.
That may not sound like much, but if you take a closer look at the example, this assessment is put into perspective: there are 250 grams of gold in a ton of old cell phones or smartphones. In contrast, one ton of gold ore only contains about four grams, so you have to mine 62.5 tons of gold ore to extract the same amount of gold. Recycling is therefore valuable in the truest sense of the word.
In 2018 alone, 1.4 billion smartphones were sold around the world. The flip side of the coin: these cell phones had to be rebuilt, while old devices still often go to the trash. In plain language: Metal mining is progressing, while other metals are simply being thrown away: The mountain of electronic waste is growing: According to a UN report in 2017, 44,700,000 tons were generated worldwide. Even in Europe, only a third of all electronic waste is collected separately. In Germany it looks a little better: In this country the response rate is around 45 percent, which is still far too low. But we can no longer afford that.
What to do with old electrical appliances?
Old electrical (electronic) devices must not be disposed of with household waste, but must be collected separately. Small devices in particular - such as cell phones - still end up in the residual waste or are stored in households as so-called "sleep cell phones". The Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media assumes that around 124 million cell phones are slumbering unused in drawers. And there are likely to be more, because many phone users buy a new cell phone or smartphone model after just a year or two.
Return it to the retailer or at a municipal collection point
The return of devices that are no longer in use is not only required by law and is important for the protection of raw materials, but also very easy: In addition to communal collection points such as recycling centers, retailers must also take back old devices. The best thing to do is to hand this in when you buy a new one.
The e-waste route
The electrical devices are sorted at the recycling center: for example, the refrigerators go to the refrigerators and the IT devices to the IT devices. Because the different devices contain different valuable substances and also different pollutants.
The pre-sorted electronic waste is then passed on to specialized recycling companies. Sometimes workers then further dismantle the devices by hand, sometimes they are shredded directly. Various sorting devices then fish out iron parts, plastic, non-ferrous metals and residues from the shredded material.
Plastic is rarely reused. Mostly it serves as a fuel and is burned in cement or power plants instead of coal. This looks more positive with metals: iron can easily be melted down and used again. With other metals, on the other hand, it is often not that easy - usually only a part can be recovered. Recycling is so technically complex that it is not worth it. Some metals have to be chemically processed in complex processes, which is often expensive.
In the case of copper, silver, palladium or gold, however, the development is already far; There is a good relationship between effort and income. Around 95 percent of these precious metals can be recycled.
It is different with the so-called "rare earths", about which one often hears or reads in the media. They are almost never recycled - the quantities in the devices are too small. It is currently still cheaper to extract new substances from the earth than from old devices. But here too, new technical processes will be able to achieve improvements.
Illegal disposal is a problem
Recycling: What sounds good at first, still has its pitfalls. The path that an old device takes to be recycled cannot always be fully traced. In addition, there is still the problem of the illegal export of electronic waste to so-called developing countries.
It is actually forbidden to export waste. But sometimes what we call "garbage" is labeled as used goods. Exporting is cheaper than professional recycling in this country. Mostly these are electrical devices from illegal street collections. Anyone who brings their electronic waste to the recycling center can be fairly certain that it will not be illegally exported.
In addition, our old cell phones and computers are often not waste for people in the so-called developing countries. They do what we often don't do: they repair the old devices and sell them. But many of the old devices are unusable. There they are painstakingly dismantled by hand and the metals from them are sold. But the price that workers pay for it is high: it poses a threat to the environment and health.
Here it is necessary to control laws more strictly, to ensure transparent structures in the recycling chain and also to hold manufacturers accountable.
Opportunity - professional recycling
Because professional recycling is and remains the only chance to counteract the scarcity of raw materials. The recycling of valuable raw materials protects the environment and the climate and reduces the global conflicts and grievances that are based on raw material extraction. Consumers are obliged not to throw away their electrical devices, but to bring them to the collection points.
Last but not least: Recycling also uses a lot of energy. In addition, not everything can be completely recycled. Therefore, the following principle applies: The best garbage is that which does not arise in the first place. That means: Those who keep their cell phone longer are most committed to a livable planet.
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