UK to Get its First Commercial Refinery for Extracting Precious Metals from E-waste

The Eco Experts

UK to Get its First Commercial Refinery for Extracting Precious Metals from E-waste

pile of phones

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The UK is set to get its first commercial refinery for extracting precious metals from electronic devices to combat e-waste.

Mint Innovation, a New Zealand startup, plans to open the facility within 12 months in Cheshire, after delays caused by the Covid-19 crisis. 

To combat the ever-growing pile-up of electronic devices, the UK refinery will be able to process 20 tonnes of e-waste per day and, if the demand is there, can even be scaled up.

This facility will also be the world’s first to use bacteria, rather than cyanide-based processes – making it even more environmentally friendly.

A pile of electronic waste

Why is this important?

 

Globally, a massive 82% of e-waste was either dumped or burned rather than recycled in 2019. And we Brits are some of the worst offenders for e-waste – producing more than the EU average. 

What’s more, the UK also exports a huge amount of electronic waste to developing countries that are ill-equipped to dispose of it in a socially and environmentally responsible way. 

Currently, many recyclers in the UK have to send printed circuit boards to mainland Europe to have the precious metals they contain extracted – and prices are set to spike in a post-Brexit economy.

When the Commons environmental audit committee launched its inquiry into e-waste and the circular economy last year, its then chair, Mary Creagh, criticised the UK’s “unsustainable” approach to e-waste and called for radical action.

We must move forward with a sustainable attitude towards electronic waste, and Mint Innovation’s facility is a key way to do this. 

How does metal extraction work?

 

Mint Innovation combines hydrometallurgy (the process of obtaining metals from their ores) and biotechnology to safely extract metals – including gold, palladium, silver and copper – from e-waste.

Check out the video below for a more detailed insight into Mint Innovation extraction process:

These facilities are low-cost, green, and local to where the waste is being created.

“The plants are very agricultural, more like a small microbrewery. The regulatory tailwind is for western nations to handle their own waste stream. We offer the same yield as the big smelters, the same level of service and quicker. 

But unlike the smelters, we do not use cyanide and we use less energy, less CO2, less water, less waste. ” – Ollie Crush, the company’s chief scientific officer

Other tech companies are also making it easier to find Black-owned businesses. In July, Google introduced a new badge to represent those specific businesses, whilst Yelp has been making it easier for customers to search for a Black-owned business.

Will it make a difference?

 

We worked out that if Mint Innovation’s facility lives up to their 20 tonnes per day promise, it will be able to remove 7,300 tonnes of e-waste in the UK each year. 

This is fantastic news, and will certainly be the helping hand we need to reduce e-waste in the UK. However, we also worked out that this is only 6.5% of our annual electronic waste. Check out the chart below to see how our annual e-waste has developed over time:

Data from Statista

 

Opening this extraction facility is an important step for the UK – but whilst a circular economy is key for a green future, we certainly need to focus on reducing our overall waste to make a real impact. 

Beth Howell Writer

Beth is The Eco Experts’ newbie. She’s keen to use her writing skills, and passion for green living, to help the environment. Whether you’re after a new boiler, or just interested in how solar panels can improve your home, she’s got your back.