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UN: Treated Waste Could be ‘Gold Mine’

landfillRecycling and waste treatment can be a “gold mine,” perhaps literally, according to a UN report that finds treated waste can be put to profitable use.

For example, 1 metric ton of electrical and electronic waste contains as much gold as 5 to 15 metric tons of typical gold ore, and amounts of copper, aluminum and rare metals that exceed by many times the levels found in typical ores. As a result, printed circuit boards are probably the “richest ore stream you’re ever going to find,” according to the Guidelines for National Waste Management Strategies: Moving from Challenges to Opportunities.

Many waste products can be reused and, if waste is separated at source, the uncontaminated organic fraction can be composted or digested anaerobically, the report says.

Furthermore, improving the operation of waste pickers in collecting and recycling useful products and materials can lead to better economic outcomes for the waste pickers themselves; to better quality organic waste that can be composted and used to improve soils; and to less need for investment in landfill facilities, the report says.

The UN estimates that 3.5 billion people, or half of the world’s population, are without access to crucial waste management services, posing significant environmental and health hazards and harming economies.

Easier consumer access to scrap electronics collection sites, spurred by manufacturer funding, has contributed to an increase in e-waste recycling and a decrease in government spending in New York State, according to a report published in July by the Product Stewardship Institute for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In June, eRecyclingCorps, a wireless device trade-in provider that partners with Sprint, Verizon, TELUS and other major wireless carriers, announced it exceeded 1.1 million trade-in devices in May, setting a new record for device collection in one month and diverting more than 450,000 pounds of e-waste from landfills.

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