Friday, August 22, 2008

Urban mining

A tonne of cell phones contains more gold than a tonne of ore from a typical gold mine. An average gold mine produces 5 grams of gold per tonne of rock whereas cell phones contain 150 grams or more per tonne. In addition a tonne of cell phones contains 100 kg of copper and 3 kg of silver, as well as other valuable metals—all of which have been soaring in price.

The quantity of precious metals to be found in discarded electric devices has led to a new phenomenon—urban mining—which seeks to recover these increasingly valuable resources before they are sent to a landfill. The company Eco-Systems in Japan—which has few natural resources—is trying to recover these precious metals from the tens of millions of cell phones and other electronic gadgets that are thrown away every year. Says Nozumo Yamanaka, manager of Eco-Systems, “To some it’s a mountain of garbage, but for others it’s a gold mine.”

Hazel Prichard, a geologist at the University of Cardiff, is working on ways to collect platinum—which comes off of catalytic converters in cars—from the dust that is collected by street sweepers. "I get excited every time I see a street cleaner," she says. Platinum is a vital component not only of catalytic converters but also of fuel cells - and
supplies are running out. It has been estimated that if all the 500 million vehicles in use today were re-equipped with fuel cells, all the world's sources of platinum would be exhausted within 15 years.

The same goes for many other rare metals such as indium, which is being consumed in unprecedented quantities for making LCDs for flat-screen TVs, and the tantalum needed to make compact electronic devices like cell phones.

The metal gallium, which along with indium is used to make indium gallium arsenide, is the semi-conducting material at the heart of a new generation of solar cells that promise to be up to twice as efficient as conventional designs.

That is why the efforts of people like Hazel Prichard to find ways to urban mine these precious metals is of vital importance to any technological fix for the looming problems of peak oil and global warming.


At 9:52 PM, Blogger Adam said...

There is a whole movement toward landfill mining. There is so much copper in landfills that it would actually be cheaper to mine it out of landfills and recycle it, than to mine new copper out of the ground.

Thanks for this post. Keep up the good fight and Alter the Eco!


At 3:23 PM, Blogger Jacqueline said...

It is so amazing how everyone is joining in to lower our impact on the earth and conserve resources by using discarded "trash". Landfill mining would certainly help the environment of the United States but may also lead to the reclamation and protection of areas around the globe where metals have been mined and the surrounding area devastated. On my own blog I offer examples and new products which will help businesses lower the amount of wastes heading to landfills,

At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suggest you to provide link to

and encourage your readers to use the
Energy Environment Forum !

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Earth Day said...

Hi Tim,

My name is Raquel Garcia and I am Communications Manager at Earth Day Network. Sorry to contact you through your comment space, but I couldn't find any other way.

We have noticed your blog and we like your content. I would like to talk with you about sharing opportunities. If you are interested, please write me at

Best regards,


At 8:03 PM, Blogger valrossie said...

Urban mining is a new concept for getting more people to recycle their old electronic gadgets and other stuff that contains precious metals. These include gold, silver, platinum, iridium and a range of others, that make your cell phone go beep and blink. Without these rare metals, the Pantone colours on my Sharp 812SH display would look a lot less bright, and you can probably forget about your new iPhone display, as they become too expensive to mass-produce.

Intenet Marketing

At 6:25 PM, Blogger Chris said...


The National Wildlife Federation recently finished a send-a-letter-to-the-EPA widget and Facebook application that sends an official message to the Environmental Protection Agency urging them to recognize the impact greenhouse gases are having on our planet. We're trying to drum-up up some support for their cause. If you're so inclined, we'd appreciate a link to either application or simply spread the word! Thanks so much!


Facebook Application:

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Julia Glenn Carter said...

I like your thoughtful approach. I'll put your link on my blog. Please consider doing the same on mine.

Julia Glenn Carter

At 7:10 PM, Blogger lstevens74 said...

I recently saw some pieces on shows like CNN and the journal with Joan Lunden on PBS that were talking about issues and solutions for industrial recycling. This is an interesting twist that could really become a game changer in the future. Whoever gets in at the beginning of the urban mining will possibly be a part of a new gold rush of sorts. I hope we start implementing such programs early on to reduce our dependence.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger S.E.B & J.A.D. said...


I've been using a sluice box to extract gold from placer deposits has long been a common practice in prospecting and small scale mining but i think you should add something about it, there are to many topics related it.


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