Experts speaking at a recent e-waste conference stated that more than 300 tons of gold and 7,500 tons of silver are used annually in manufacturing electronic products. This means that yearly deposits of e-waste hold nearly $21 billion in value. Yet, a mere 10-15% of this waste is recovered. E-waste is also increasing two to three times faster than any other waste stream.
This presents a huge opportunity for sustainable business ventures. However, there are some important safety concerns; most resource recovery from e-waste streams is conducted in less developed countries, meaning that tons of e-waste is being exported to and building up in these countries. Furthermore, this work is being done in unsafe work conditions, and often for extremely low wages, an all too familiar pattern in less developed countries.
The bottom line? E-waste presents both hazards and opportunities. If we can find safe, regulated waste to harness e-waste’s precious metals, it has the potential to be a gold rush for the modern era.