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.
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.
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.