Urban Mining is the Way of the Future
Around the world as historical commodity prices climb and metals and raw materials become more scarce and more valuable, utilizing and recycling all such materials is becoming more prevalent each day, starting new industries and creating jobs, and monetizing traditional waste streams.
A recent book by Chuck Vollmer describes this world wide revolution of sustainability as “urban mining”… a process of “reclaiming raw materials from products, buildings and waste from towns, cities and metropolitan areas.” Since 1994, copper has gone from .75 per pound to $3.40; aluminum from .50 to .80; gold from $400.00 per ounce to $1,200.00; silver from $5.00 per ounce to $20.00; and platinum from $400 per ounce to $1,400.00.
Across the United States one reads of copper being stripped from buildings and construction sites and refrigerators left out on the streets are stripped down for raw materials before they are picked up the next morning. Unfortunately, municipalities and jurisdictions are paying millions of dollars to have companies haul away this valuable waste to bury it or ship it overseas, when they could be “mining” it for revenues to pay for schools, public safety and environmental cleanup.
25 States currently restrict electronic or “eWaste” from being dumped into landfills. Unfortunately, Virginia is not one of them. Americans are too prosperous, too lazy, or too ignorant of the fact this eWaste is not only potentially toxic, but it is extremely valuable and can be recycled with ease. In fact, eWaste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the U.S., with thousands of computers, peripherals, printers, fax machines, televisions and mobile devices discarded each day. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2009, of the 2.37 million tons of eWaste ready for disposal, 75% went into landfills and only 25% was recycled. Of the amount recycled, 80% was shipped to foreign lands, mainly China, India and Nigeria, where the extraction process is unregulated and often unsafe.
Here in Virginia, local governments which could be monetizing this waste stream and capturing millions in revenues, are landfilling eWaste or paying others to take it away. Why not mandate collection, recycling it, and earn millions per year. In Prince William County for instance, the estimated eWaste stream and whiteware (appliances) and brownware (anything with an electronic plug) could be collected, processed and recycled, earning the county approximately $30 million per year. Instead, they pay contractors to haul it away.
Municipal waste is another issue altogether, where most jurisdictions landfill it rather than using it to produce energy or fuels. In Europe, hundreds of eCycling plants exist turning this waste into raw materials and billons in revenue and even in Russia and Eastern Europe dozens of plants exist turning garbage, tires and organic wastes into precious fuels for energy and transportation.
In Virginia, we are proud of our business acumen and our heritage in leading the way in our nation toward solutions to common day problems. It is time our leaders at the state and local level closely examined the European experience in eWaste and municipal waste management, reviewed technologies readily available and in use across Europe, and moved Virginia to adopt sound policies and yes, mandates, toward safely capturing and monetizing our waste streams.
One combined effort underway in Southeast Virginia, the Hampton Roads Urban Mining Center, would start with eCycling and move to produce fuels from municipal waste. Utilizing the latest in European technologies just now available in the U.S., the benefits from similar regional efforts across Virginia per site would be monumental, including:
Nearly $500 million worth of private sector investment.
Over 500 new direct jobs with $25/hour average wage, not counting 500 construction jobs and new transportation/hauling-related jobs.
Tax revenue streams on over $200 million annual revenue (after 3 years).
A negative carbon footprint, no harmful emissions, reduced landfilling and gas emissions, and green jobs.
Wholesale cost gasoline for local community organizations.
Transfer stations and Municipal Recycling Facilities for disaster-related debris processing.
Magnets for manufacturing industries using low-cost recycled materials.
American energy independence and decentralized fuel production for homeland security and military applications.
Community-Based Business Generators for training, certification and small business creation in the collection and transport of waste. Special programs for veterans, the unemployed, financially distressed and the formerly incarcerated.
Municipalities across the Commonwealth, strapped for cash and funds for education and transportation, literally have a gold mine at their disposal… and unfortunately, they are doing exactly that: disposing of raw materials and even paying people to do it for them, when the could be reaping financial rewards and protecting the environment.
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