This blog was authored by Anne Staley, an environmentalist
Scrap metal recycling has been around for sometime. We’ve come to a stage where people understand that it’s not just desirable, but also necessary to recycle their scrap metal. They also realize that there are significant profits to be made from scrap metal recycling.
But how many of us know that what we consider rubbish is actually a treasure trove of riches? Do we really fully grasp the potential of scrap metal recycling? Not if you go by the opinion of one of the highest-ranking executives of the world’s largest electronic and metal recyclers Sims Metal Management.
According to the company’s North America president Bob Kelman, while most people have become familiar with the recycling of paper, plastics, glass, metal bottles and even cans, many remain largely unfamiliar with the recycling of other types of scrap metal.
Take, for instance, the host of consumer electronics that people use on a daily basis such as cell phones, computers, tablets, televisions, cameras, etc.
These electronics are not just a rich source of common ferrous and non-ferrous metal scrap like aluminum, copper, and iron, but also contain components made from precious metals like gold, silver, and palladium as well as rare earth elements (REEs) such as scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, etc.
Why is it desirable to recycle metals?
Metals are required to manufacture a variety of products without which it is difficult to imagine life today – from gadgets to cars and jumbo jets. But the ores from which these minerals are extracted are present only in finite amounts, especially the ones that yield precious metals like gold and silver.
Companies have to mine a whole lot of ore to extract these metals. For example, typically a ton of ore will have to be mined to extract just one gram of gold. On the other hand, recycling one metric ton of circuit boards can yield 40 to 800 times the amount of gold mined from one metric ton of ore, according to the U.S. Environment Protection Agency.
As for rare earth elements, they’re not so much rare as difficult and expensive to mine because they’re dispersed and not found concentrated in ore deposits that are typically economical to exploit.
It’s much easier and more cost-effective to extract these rare and precious metals from electronic waste and other types of scrap not to mention more environment-friendly.
How are these metals recycled?
The process of electronics recycling to extract metals begins when you take your e-waste to a metal scrap yard. Recyclers recommend finding a responsible and certified metal recycler, who’ll clean or destroy the sensitive data on your devices according to the Department of Defense (DoD) standards.
Once that’s done, toxins and hazardous substances from the recyclable electronic devices are removed after which they’re shredded. The process of shredding liberates the materials for downstream separation into various types of commodities.
The separated streams of materials or commodities are sold and distributed to manufacturers as recycled feedstock.
The process of extracting rare earth elements, however, is a little different and not as economically viable as other types of metals. However, there are organizations dedicated to developing technologies to make the process of REE (Rare Earth Elements) recycling more efficient and cost-effective.
For example, auto maker Honda has developed a process to extract over 80 percent of rare earth metals contained in nickel-metal hydride batteries at more than 99 percent purity.
Precious metal scrap recycling is not a myth. It’s a very real fact – a fact that can save the environment and make the manufacturing sector more sustainable. It can also make your pocket a tad heavier if you care enough to recycle!