A fifth of the planet’s natural resources will start disappearing in just five years. Twenty-one of the 118 chemical elements listed in Mendeleev’s Table will be used up within five to 50 years, some even sooner, according to a recent study published by Professor James Clark, a chemist at New York University.
Ores such as gold, manganese, zinc, silver, arsenic, gallium, germanium, rhodium, ruthenium, cadmium, indium, platinum, ruthenium, thallium or bismuth are close to depletion due to over-extraction, driven by the industrial revolution and exponential growth in consumption, especially in the last three decades.
All these ores are essential in the electrical and electronic equipment manufacturing industry, and their depletion and disappearance will lead to very long delivery delays, higher prices or even the impossibility of producing electrical and electronic equipment in the near future.
“Gold, platinum, silver or palladium are used, for example, as conductors in the production of telephones, laptops and televisions. Cadmium is indispensable for the production of batteries in games consoles and electronic toys, and just 0.1% ruthenium, in combination with titanium, makes an electrical product 100 times more resistant to corrosion and is used in the aviation and aerospace industries.”
Thallium is used in the construction of electrical generators or transmission equipment such as TV aerials or radio transmitting stations, bismuth is used in the production of electrical semiconductors. Indium is used for the production of tablets or game consoles, and is indispensable for the production of cryogenic equipment, and germanium is used for infrared equipment,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association.
Demand for new power equipment encourages mining and quarrying
It is estimated that 10 billion people will be living in the world in 2060, 2 billion more than today. At the same time, especially in developed regions, average annual per capita income will rise, accelerating demand for products, including electronics and appliances.
“According to figures from a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the global market for electrical equipment has grown from $1503.21 billion in 2022 to $1630.86 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach $290.31 billion in 2027. Asia-Pacific was the region with the highest purchasing power for electrical and electronic equipment, followed by Western Europe, with Africa at the bottom of the ranking.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute’s “The Promise and Limits of Urban Mining” report, extraction of materials from natural deposits tripled between 1970 and 2017, from 2.6 to 9.1 billion tonnes per year for metals and from 9 to 44 billion tonnes per year for non-metal raw materials. Against this background, global extraction of metals will reach 18 billion tonnes per year and of non-metallic minerals 112 billion tonnes in 2060.
“The industrial revolution threatens the future of life on this planet as we know it today. Technological innovations and the ever-increasing demand for new electrical and electronic equipment will drain the planet of resources much sooner than originally estimated. In five years, we will feel the first effects of resource depletion. In addition, the whole process of extracting iron ore and raw materials causes greenhouse gases, pollutes the air, the soil and exacerbates global warming”, continues Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association.
Recycling, the only solution for a green future
The current global component crisis would not be so acute if a sound recycling system for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was implemented and complied with in countries around the world, says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association.
The large manufacturers, but also the end consumers, should offer for collection end-of-life products containing exactly those components that are so hard to find today.
“By properly recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment, we encourage urban mining and support the circular economy.
Recycling rates of now endangered natural resources are very low, sometimes even below 1%. These natural resources exist in all discarded electrical and electronic equipment and would be easy to recover if they were recycled responsibly. Currently, of the 21 critical raw materials, we have eight that are recycled at less than 1%. These include gallium, germanium, arsenic, selenium and bismuth. The percentages are better for manganese, cobalt, nickel, copper, silver, rhodium or palladium, where the recovery rate after recycling exceeds 50%,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association (www.respo.ro).
On the other hand, waste electrical and electronic equipment worldwide has a potential value of $62.5 billion per year. The economic value comes from precious metals used in products, such as gold, silver, copper, platinum and other critical raw materials like tungsten and indium.
“Electronic and electrical equipment contains valuable and rare materials mined, often found in circuit boards, microchips, batteries, cables and peripherals. A smartphone, for example, contains 72 elements found in the periodic table, 62 of which are metals, such as zinc, gold, copper, palladium, tantalum. Touch screens, which we all use today, contain indium. This is also present in solar panels. Then, tantalum is used in micro-capacitors for a wide range of equipment, from mobile phones to wind turbines,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO.
Last but not least, recycled metals are two to ten times more energy efficient than their virgin counterparts when mined, says the specialist. They are also much more valuable per tonne of e-waste than the equivalent weight of ore mined, especially when it comes to gold and copper.
In Romania, people can hand in their waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) for recycling by ordering the RESPO box by phone or online, at www.respo.ro. Once received at home or at any other address mentioned, they can put their small WEEE in the box, which will then be collected free of charge by specialists and transported to the recycling centres. Romanians can also take broken or discarded household appliances to collection points, which are now found almost everywhere, especially in shops selling electrical and electronic products. From here, WEEE will follow the path of responsible recycling, with much of the material being recovered and reused for the production of new equipment.