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Updated 12:02 17/08/18

Recycled gold is Europe’s richest precious metal source

Liam Sheasby

By Liam Sheasby, News Editor

05 Feb 2018

A survey of urban mining published last month found that Europe’s landfill sites are proving a rich vein for precious metals, with an expected uptake in the pursuit of recycling to reclaim some of this wealth.

Urban mining is the term given to the act of reclaiming metals and elements, whether from products, buildings or waste. An article published by Reuters estimated this waste – 18 million tonnes per year – to run into the billions in physical worth.

With smartphones, tablets, laptop computers, as well as parts from modern cars and electric cars, this sort of reclamation is becoming an industry unto itself. Many landfills do already separate batteries, computers, fridges and general electrical or electronic waste, purposely to make the reclamation process easier, but as a report from ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes) stated, a typical smartphone has a gold concentration 25 to 30 times higher than that of the richest primary gold ores.

Computer processors, chip strips, motherboards and other components - all containing precious metals like gold.

ProSUM is a partnership developed to track the flow of materials from 30 European Union nations from sales to landfill. The website, http://www.urbanmineplatform.eu, also offers predictions for the flows for the near future. The main prediction is the continued growth in the electric and hybrid car industry, which suggests a growth in the reclamation of cobalt, lithium, and neodymium.

The Urban Mine Platform refers to the early adoption of recycling by the UK, France, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands. Given the prevalence of recycling schemes across Europe it’s plausible that strong uptake in recycling gold and other precious metals via specialist schemes could see an influx of resources and a drop in prices, but there’s a reason why these valuable metals aren’t being leapt upon: cost. Rapid technological advances deter the investment into urban mining because what’s currently valuable might not be in the future, and what is valuable at present might not outweigh the cost of re-using it. For now, large scale gold recycling remains an idealistic pipedream.

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