Why U.S. Companies are Recycling and Reusing E-waste
When you think of recyclables you may think of scrap metal such as copper, an aluminum beer can, a plastic milk jug… things of that nature. Most likely e-waste recycling, like cellphones and laptops, aren’t the first thing to come into your mind. However, now U.S. companies like Apple are taking an interest in recycling and reusing so called E-waste. In this post we’re going to tell you why.
However, before we dive into exactly why companies are doing this and why it’s important, you need to understand the basis of E-waste – rare earth metals.
Rare Earth Metals
As we’ve mentioned previously, to a certain degree everyone is familiar with some metals – copper wiring, aluminum cans, a stainless steel frying pan. As such, these metals are common and can be mined throughout the world. Rare earth metals on the other hand are the exact opposite.
You’ve probably never heard of or seen Rare Earth Metals, it makes sense since they’re… rare. According to the Rare Earth Technology Alliance, there are 17 total rare earths:
What makes these metals and alloys that contain them so significant is that they possess unique chemical properties that can be used in a variety of electronic products. According to Geology.com many of these metals are used for such things as computer memory, DVDs, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, laptops, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting and even have significant military applications such as guidance systems, lazers and night vision goggles.
Demand and Impacts
Currently China is a powerhouse of rare earth metal production, according to Geology.com, “China began producing notable amounts of rare earth oxides in the early 1980s and became the world’s leading producer in the early 1990s. Through the 1990s and early 2000s, China steadily strengthened its hold on the world’s rare earth oxide market”.
Given that fact that a single country controls almost all the means of production and refinement of this product, it means that prices of the products these metals are used in can be quite high, one of the reasons technology can be so pricey.
However, demand for items like cell phones and laptops remains high. However, the cost of rare earth metals isn’t limited to labor. Mining and refining rare earth metals is an extremely dangerous and environmentally damaging process. According to an article in “The Guardian” ,”processing rare earths is a dirty business. Their ore is often laced with radioactive materials such as thorium, and separating the wheat from the chaff requires huge amounts of carcinogenic toxins – sulphates, ammonia and hydrochloric acid. Processing one ton of rare earths produces 2,000 tons of toxic waste”.
A New Hope
Large electronics companies like Apple are realizing the value of recycling and reusing rare earth minerals commonly found in products like smartphones and laptops. According to Apple’s website, Apple has started a program where you can send in your old Apple products to be disassembled by a special machine that removes the metals and recycles them. Sending old products to Apple will earn consumers credit to be used to purchase new Apple products in the future.
Having a way to recycle these E-waste products is not only good for the environment as it prevents the need to mine new metals and cause more E-waste down the line, but is saves companies money. Recovering these metals means that they can be used again in new products so they now can spend less money on acquiring new materials.
With the demand for products like cell phones and laptops only increasing, E-waste and the need to recycle it will increase with it. Hopefully other large technology firms will follow Apple’s example.
However, another way to recycle e-waste, is to contact an electronic recycling firm like Great Lake Electronics Corporation. We can assist you in the process and recycle the waste in a proper, environmentally-friendly manner. Read our computer recycling guide, and how your business can benefit from e-waste.