Published on 9th February 2019 by

What is Urban Mining and will Urban Mining shape the future of recycling? Has Urban Mining the power to change mobile phones into gold? And if so, how does Urban Mining work? This documentary shows where our e-waste goes, how we can avoid filthy garbage hills and what for business opportunities recycling can offer.

Besides the Scheldt river, under the smoke of Antwerp you can find the company of Umicore. The terrain is 113 hectares and around 1600 peoples work there and are busy with mining. The company is extremely well structured and efficient. They dig in electronic waste or e-waste and look for precious metals such as gold, platinum, silver and base metals as copper and led. This new form of mining is called Urban Mining. It is estimated that Urban Mining can cover up to 40% of global demand of precious metals.

Our waste is worth money. Recovering it has started up a new global industry worth billions. It is called Urban Mining and it appears to be the solution for many of our environmental problems and our energy needs. And it is hot. A ton of broken mobile phones, computers or other electronic waste contains sixty times the amount of gold a ton of gold ore has. Moreover, it is easier to get at. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of total world demand for rare metals can be covered by urban mining and this is only the beginning.

Urban Mining has a different, almost hilarious consequence: for years we have dumped our electronic waste in developing countries, with our eyes closed. There, it was to be recycled. But in Africa only one quarter of the gold, platinum and coltan is recovered whereas the newest technology in Belgium recovers almost 99 percent. So somewhere there’s a profit to be made. The NGO ‘Closing the Loop’ is buying up dead mobile phones and computer parts that we have dumped in developing countries making our waste a desirable sales item over there.

Original title: Vuil goud
Originally broadcasted by VPRO in 2015.
© VPRO Backlight March 2015

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Credits:
Director: Frank Wiering Research: Olaf Oudheusden Producer: Jenny Borger Editors: Marije Meerman, Doke Romeijn
English, French and Spanish subtitles: Ericsson.
French and Spanish subtitles are co-funded by European Union.

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