Recycling

Recycling, urban mining, waste management, lifecycle analysis, cradle to cradle. All these words are keywords where the world with its current consumption will be confronted with in the near future.

Metal prices have increased in the last decade. With the current extraction debate, reuse thinking becomes more and more valuable.

Recycling is of course the re-use of already used products and substances. Old substances are refined to a new product. Urban Mining is a part of this, it concerns the recycling of electronic waste, buildings and even daily products which are massively available in modern day cities. Urban areas can be perceived as the ‘mines of the future’ and do have a huge potential of metals to be recycled. Laptops, mobile phones, PCs, cars, and batteries all contain precious metals like copper, gold silver, bronze etc.

 

In Europe, Belgian industry is a frontrunner in the field of waste management and recycling. But still a lot of problems need to be resolved. For example, what happens with your old mobile phone when you deliver it to a phone shop? Is it recycled to reuse its resources? Or is it shipped to Asia or Africa so marginalized communities can manually tear the products down in their search for metals, with no protection from the possibly grave impacts to their health?

Life-cycle analysis or Life Cycle assessment (LCA); is a technique to calculate the ecological impact of products, from the ‘birth’ of a product until its ‘death’. Hence, the term Cradle to Grave analysis. The stages are: extraction of the raw material, material processing, production, distribution, use, repair, maintenance, recycling or dumping. This method offers an elaborate analysis of the ecological impact of a product. Emissions, chemical use, used materials, ecological impacts are all calculated. Results can be interpreted and used as an argument to make profound decisions for improving sustainable ways of use and production.

The Cradle to Cradle (C2C) way of thinking, connects to the LCA. The concept reasons that products which are assembled in a sustainable way, can be reused or recycled after their lifecycle, without any loss. An infinite cycle of products can be created without waste creation. Cradle to cradle stems from the triangle Ecology, Economy, Equity.

A lot of organizations have adopted the three P’s (People, Planet, Profit) as guidelines for socially responsible entrepreneurship.

At the moment there is not enough clarity on the existence of waterproof control systems concerning recycling. It is impossible to get assurance from a jeweler that a jewel has been 100% recycled. Without certificates or extern audits, it is hardly possible to know, as jewelers themselves are often not sure about the gold they buy.

Green and recycling are hip terms, not more than often they are misinterpreted and misused by companies, who are guilty of green washing.

Gold remains an interesting product to recycle. It is possible to recycle the metal to 99.9% purity; higher than most other products. The refining of gold is an ancient practice and probably one of the oldest forms of recycling. The way it should be, it is for example possible to extract the gold from 200 mobile phones and make a gold ring out of it. The gold from one mobile phone is responsible for 150 kilograms of toxic mine waste. Calculate how many mobile phones you threw away?