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Forget about metal ores, ‘urban mining’ is 13 times cheaper

GLOBAL – Recovering gold, copper and other metals from discarded electronics is 13 times cheaper than mining for virgin metals, a team of Beijing and Sydney researchers has revealed. Indeed, they argue, there is an increasingly attractive business case for ‘urban mining’ of metals.

Urban mining costs for 1 kg ingots of copper were found to have decreased from US$ 6.697 in 2010 to US$ 1.684 in 2015, and from US$ 8438 to US$ 1591 for gold over the same period. By comparison, virgin mining costs ranged between US$ 0.8 and US$ 1.6 per kg for copper, depending on the extraction method used, and an average of US$ 33,404.626 per kg (US$ 1039 per oz) for gold.

These findings by researchers Xianlai Zeng and Jinhui Li of Tsinghua University in Beijing and John Mathews of Macquarie University in Sydney were published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science & Technology. The objective of the work was to determine whether recycled cathode ray tube televisions present a good urban mining source.

‘Cheaper every year’

The researchers argue that metals recovery from post-consumer electronics ‘becomes cheaper every year’. They obtained real-cost data from eight major recycling companies in China to support their calculations; these costs include waste collection, manual labour, energy consumption, material and transportation, as well as capital costs of the recyclers’ equipment and buildings.

‘If these results can be extended to other metals and countries, they promise to have positive impacts on waste disposal and mining activities globally, as the circular economy comes to displace linear economic pathways,’ the researchers note.

Urban mining costs for 1 kg ingots of copper were found to have decreased from US$ 6.697 in 2010 to US$ 1.684 in 2015.

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