Cashing in on E-Waste

Written by Ian Bellamy

What do you do when your mobile phone dies? It’s a shame to simply throw it away, especially since it’s loaded with gold, silver, copper and other valuable raw materials.

Not to mention larger electronic devices, such as computers and tablets.

A German company, ALBA, has agreed to work with their national post office, who will collect any old electronic devices that will fit in an A4-sized envelop. The company will then harvest materials and reuse up to 80 percent of them.

Germany gets over 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and has one the most developed recycling programs in the world.

There is, according to six categories of recyclables in place:

  • the yellow bin for packaging materials,
  • the brown bin for compostables,
  • the blue bin for paper,
  • the white glass bin,
  • the colored glass bin, and
  • the grey bin for the rest of the trash.

Recycling programs such as these are not unheard of. Cell for Cash (who is not currently accepting orders) was known to take old mobile phones and refurbish them for sale in developing countries. The Cash for Clunkers program in the U.S. would also scrap the old vehicles for the metal.

E-Waste is becoming a bigger problem day in and day out, as it accounts for 70 percent of overall toxic garbage.

According to Recyclebank, a company that encourages people to recycle, “The total annual global volume of e-waste is expected to reach about 40 million metric tons. In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that we generated 1.5 billion pounds of all kinds of e-waste in 2006. This includes an estimated 44 million computers and televisions.”

Of course, this is only going to increase in time as more people get cell phones and computers and the rate which technology is becoming updated.

It’s harmful to see retired cell phones as “waste,” because in fact it is a resource. A functional phone can be donated, and a broken one can be refurbished or recycled. With the amount of e-waste that is already present and the amount that we will produce in the future, it is inevitable that we will have to keep in mind our limited resources, especially with regard to rare-earth minerals that are found in everyday devices.

We can expect that as the problem of e-waste becomes more dire, we’ll see more programs and companies, and it appears that Germany is leading the way.

Putting Butts To Use: Cigarettes Can Be Recycled

Beach near you?

Maybe doctors of the early and mid 20th century were just really ahead of their time. Cigarettes, it seems, may be healthy for at least one thing: steel. A recently published Chinese study says that chemicals drawn out of cigarette butts by water can protect a type of steel most commonly used in oil drilling operations.

The finding is considered potentially useful for the industry because of the millions of dollars companies spend annually to replace this corroded steel. It’s considered important for the world because there aren’t many, if any, more common types of trash; and it’s a type of trash that emits fish-killing chemical that ultimately find their way into rivers and oceans. It’s considered important for China because the county hosts the lion’s share of the world’s smokers (and cigarette butts), as well as the planet’s biggest smoke stick factory.

Because of how cigarettes are often disposed, like flicking on a sidewalk or beach, and how they degrade, recycling is likely a better option than any ordinary manner of disposal.

The study, authored by scientists in Xi’an, China, has been published in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

No word yet on how all those stubbed out butts might be collected.