BAGUIO CITY—Almost all the gadgets and tools of modern living—from computers, automobiles and planes to the chalice used in the Eucharist—come from materials that are mined. Thus, the argument that mining must continue.
Not necessarily, according to some Church-backed nongovernment organizations which are exploring the opportunities that have been opened up by urban mining technology, or metals recycling, as an alternative to the environmentally destructive extracting industry.
“Metals are a finite resource, and whether or not we care about the impact of mining, extraction cannot continue indefinitely,” said lawyer Mario Maderazo, project officer of the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) mining campaign office.
The PMPI held its 4th general assembly at Teachers Camp here from February 27 to March 1, where metal recycling was discussed in one of several breakout forums.
Misereor is a Catholic-affiliated donor agency based in Germany which operates various projects in the Philippines.
According to Maderazo, the PMPI is exploring partnership arrangements with several urban miners to make metal recycling a community-based activity. These ventures would pursue the recycling and recovery of precious metals from electronic scrap, called e-scraps, which are often abandoned in local landfills.
He said the e-scrap supply had been rising as companies introduce more new products.
The fast turnover of cars, computers, mobile telephones and other electronic gadgets has become the “driver” of development in the global economy, he said.
Ironically, this rapid turnover is also what has escalated the demand for metals, Maderazo said.
Life span of gadgets
Mark Bueno, manager of the Integrated Recycling Industries Inc. (IRII) based in Laguna Techno Park in Biñan, Laguna province, said the average consumption life span of gadgets in the country has dropped from 6 years to 2 years in a period when 183 million computers were sold worldwide.
Bueno’s company is one of four accredited metals recycling facilities operating in the country. According to Bueno, he has to employ 21 people to process the 2 metric tons of electronic scraps which his company collects monthly.
Mobile telephones have a two-year life cycle in developed countries, Bueno noted. He said 674 million mobile phones were sold worldwide in 2004, which was 30 percent more than the sales in 2003.
He said China and India generate 300,000 and 57,000 tons of e-scrap annually, respectively. The Philippines has no existing e-scrap data.
Maderazo acknowledged that metal recycling had been discounted as an option by both industry and government owing to the high cost of mining scrap.
The Philippines has no precious metals refinery or smelting plant to process recycled minerals like copper, so metal recyclers have to ship the alloys to Europe, Bueno said. Profits are recovered only after six months, he added.
But rising world metals prices in the past few years may just improve the profitability of recycled metals.
Records of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau show that many owners and operators of old mines have resurfaced and have petitioned the government to allow them to mine their tailings dams for mineral deposits that are mixed in with the mine waste that have been deposited there for almost a century.
Citing studies, Maderazo said every kilogram of successfully recycled scrap material makes it unnecessary to locate and extract the same amount of metals from virgin mineral ores.
“If each of the 3 billion people globally who own mobile telephones, brought back just one unused device, we could save 240,000 tons of raw materials and reduce greenhouse gases [which has the] same effect as taking 4 million cars off the road,” he said.
He said recycling metals is 10 times more energy-efficient than smelting the metals from virgin ores.
According to the United Nations Environment Program (Unep), commercial mining accounts for 7 percent of the world’s energy consumption. Meanwhile, the amount of energy saved from the use of various recycled metals is 92 percent for aluminum, 90 percent for copper, and 56 percent for steel, Unep said.
“There’s more gold found in 1 metric ton of cell phones and other electronic waste than 17 tons of gold ore excavated and refined through the traditional mining process,” Maderazo said.
Mining cell phones
He said a metric ton of recycled cell phones can produce 140 kilograms of copper, 3.14 kg of silver, 300 grams of gold and 130 grams of palladium (another metal).
“By learning the beauty of recycling, we all find out that [a popular mobile telephone brand] is mostly made of plastic, precious metal and ceramic of which 100 percent can be salvaged and reused,” he said.
The phone’s plastic frame can be dissolved into plastic pellets or portable platforms for moving materials in warehouses and factories, while the steel frames can be converted into kettles, ovens, or bicycle frames, he said.
The copper that makes up a telephone’s circuitry and printed wiring boards can be recycled into copper pipes and musical instruments, while the platinum components can be used for dental fillings and jewelry, he said.
He said there is also gold coating the connectors and surfaces of the telephone’s electronic system. With reports from Melody Rapallo, April Ranis and Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
Source: Inquirer News. By Maurice Malanes. 3 March 2012