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E-waste recycling can trigger new ‘Gold Rush’

Europe – Electrical waste recycling could be part of a new environmental ‘Gold Rush’, according to a report published by Aachen University.
Gold recovered properly from electrical waste is of a purity and quality similar to virgin gold, potentially saving massive amounts of energy and reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it is explained. Researchers from the German university found that a tonne of waste circuit boards could yield 400 grammes of gold – 80 times more than the same quantity of gold ore would yield.

The research was commissioned to celebrate the achievement of the European Recycling Platform (ERP) in recycling 1 million tonnes of electrical waste; the data show that the resultant saving of 9 billion kWh of energy is enough to power 1.5 million homes for a year. The production of 1 kg of virgin gold releases the equivalent of 19 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, it is claimed. Although only around 20% of small electrical items are currently being recycled, the remaining 80% is not necessarily being binned but may be lurking in drawers and cupboards because people do not want to throw them away and are unsure where to take them. In electronic goods, nearly half (47%) of the recovered materials are metals: 8 tonnes of gold, 65 tonnes of silver, 40 000 tonnes of copper and 390 000 tonnes of steel have been recovered from the 1 million tonnes of waste electronic and electrical equipment recycled by the ERP. The Platform is the only pan-European compliance scheme and was set up in 2002 by Electrolux, HP, P&G and Sony in response to the introduction of the EU’s WEEE Directive.

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