Whether you’re aware of it or not, you are using a variety of base, precious, and heavy metals right now! You’re probably reading this on your phone or computer, which functions through the use of over 60 types of metals. When our devices become obsolete, urban mining provides a way to recover these valuable metals while generating a clean waste stream, free of toxic heavy metals.
There are different definitions of what constitutes a base metal. For simplicity’s sake, we define a base metal as just an ordinary and inexpensive metal. Examples include copper, lead, tin, nickel, aluminum and zinc. These metals oxidize relatively quickly and react with hydrochloric acid to form hydrogen gas (the exception here is copper).
Metals like gold, silver, and platinum are considered precious metals. These metals are rare, have a high economic value, are usually quite ductile and have a high lustre. They are also much less reactive than other elements, making them particularly useful in manufacturing certain goods.
Part of what makes precious metals so “precious” is their economic value. Aluminum used to be a precious metal and was more valuable than gold in the 1850s. After new extraction methods were created, the price of aluminum plummeted, removing it from the list of precious metals.
Heavy metals have densities at least five times greater than water and have high atomic weights. The metals in this category usually refer to toxic elements like mercury, lead or arsenic. Exposure to these metals can be quite dangerous for people and the environment.
What’s Inside Your Electronics?
Thousands of plastic and metal parts make up our electronic devices. It’s necessary to use base, precious, and heavy metals to create products with HD displays and fast processing. To bring you the latest technology, a typical phone is made up of the following:
- Screens contain aluminum and tin
- Capacitors are made up of tantalum, platinum, and palladium
- Electrical components are made up of copper, gold, and silver
- Batteries are made up of lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese, and mercury
- Microphones and speakers contain arsenic and gallium
Don’t worry, daily use of your cell phone won’t expose you to any of the heavy metals in the device—the danger lies in irresponsible recycling practices. Unfortunately, there are electronic waste (e-waste) recyclers that do not handle this material appropriately, putting their workers and the environment at risk.
When e-waste is buried in landfills, the chemicals leach into the soil and groundwater. The hazardous waste finds its way into animals and plants, damaging the local ecosystem. If people consume these food sources, they are putting themselves at risk as well.
Alternatively, some companies ship the e-waste to recycling centres in third world countries that have little or no safety regulations. In these countries, it’s common practice for workers to burn the plastic and fibreglass off of e-waste in open fields, releasing the toxic fumes into the air. Since the workers do not wear masks, they end up breathing in the toxic fumes which have been linked to numerous illnesses, including several forms of cancer.
Urban Mining For Metal Recovery
Sepro Urban Mining has worked closely with responsible e-waste recyclers to develop a safe disposal method for the heavy metals in your device while recovering the valuable material, like gold. We have options including thermal conditioning with gas treatment and gravity recovery as well as unique leaching processes to remove any harmful or toxic elements before concentrating the valuable waste material. This helps protect the environment and e-waste workers. The metal concentrates can then be sold directly to refiners at a profit.
If you’re still leaving valuable metals behind in your e-waste recycling, contact Sepro Urban Mining today. We can responsibly maximize metal recovery to keep workers and the environment safe.