During the takeover mania of 1980s, oil tycoon T Boone Pickens had famously said that it was much easier to find oil on Wall Street than in Texas. The Times of India reports that nearly a quarter century since, a host of companies are taking a similar approach by ferreting out costly metals from the e-waste generated by defunct gadgets, rather than in metal mines around the world.

E-waste mining is a process where valuable materials like gold, copper, iron and plastic are extracted from the circuitry of computers and cellphones, by using same techniques that miners use to process metal ores.

“And there‘‘s plenty to dig from,” says Satish Sinha, Associate Director of Toxics Link, an NGO that deals with environmental issues. “The junk that we are throwing away contains more aluminium, gold and copper than we find in the ores. These metals are used in the circuit boards of computers and electronic gadgets.”

One tonne of scrap from discarded computers contains more gold than can be produced from 17 tonne of gold ore. Mumbai alone throws away 19,000 tonne of electronic waste a year, excluding the large e-waste imports from developed nations through its port. The trend is likely to increase manifold in proportion to the growth in the electronics industry and the life-span of electronics go down. The projected growth for the e-waste generation for India is about 34% year on year, says Sinha.

“Instead of viewing obsolete computers, mobile phones and televisions as a problem, we should look at it as a commodity,” K Venkataraman, president E&C division at L&T.

E-waste is often richer in rare metals than their ores, containing 10 to 50 times higher copper content than copper ore. A cell phone contains five to 10 times higher gold content than gold ore.

Multiply this with 150,000 tonne of e-waste generated annually and the numbers are pretty lucrative. The financial models that recycling plants abroad are working on are pretty lucrative too, says a study conducted by Toxics Link.

According to the study, 5 tonne of e-waste, which would come from about 183 computers, gives a huge profit of Rs 1,78,308. The math is simple: Taking a very conservative estimate of the materials recovered, total value of the recoverable materials from 183 computers will be Rs 2,88,108. The input cost of 183 computers (from various market sources) is approx. 183×600 (inclusive of the logistics) = Rs 1,09800. Which means a good Rs 1,78,308 is the profit margin for the recycler.

India already has a few small-scale regional recycling programmes that are employed today. Eparisara and Trishyiraya Recycling, both based in Chennai, are two such outfits. P Parthasarathy, director, Eparisara, feels that at each metro needs 2-3 plants, each with a processing capacity of 10 tonne a day.

“The industry seems to be waking up,” says Venkataraman. “Domestic and international entrepreneurs are interested in setting up plants in the country. Multinationals such as HP and Sony Electronics are also showing keen interest in setting up plants in the country,” he added

Ano da Publicação:
WARMER BULLETIN ENEWS #25-2007-June 22, 2007
Kit Strange/Warmer Bulletin
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