Mining Subsidies Hurt E-Scrap Recycling
It could cost electronics makers $1-2 billion a year to ensure
recycling of old units in the U.S. – but one recycler claims
that if the 1872 Mining Act were reformed, recyclers could afford
to take all e-scrap in for free.
“Hard rock mining accounts for 45% of all toxics emitted
– and 14 out of 15 Superfund sites,” says Robin Ingenthron,
a former state recycling official and vice president of Vermont
Retroworks. He spoke at the March 3 session of the Take it Back!
He pointed out that because it only costs industry $5 an acre
to mine new ores, virgin metals prices are artificially cheap
in the U.S. - but not so in other countries.
“E-scrap is 300% richer in metals than rocks - and recycling
creates a fraction of the pollution,” he says. “Gold
mining releases more mercury than all mercury mining and disposal
combined!” He notes that Asia is number one in the world
in per-capita consumption of gold and platinum.
Ingenthron was making a case for a reduction in virgin material
subsidies, and he explained why it makes environmental sense to
export some e-scrap materials.
He says that the 5% of the old units he gets in that can be
re-sold or reused, account for 50% of income. Units that
can be repaired account for 30% of income - and the 75% that can
be recycled account for 20% of income. “The internet has
lowered barriers to entry” for marketers, he adds.
“The countries with high reuse, no mining subsidies and
low wages have the advantage,” he concludes.
The realities are that if the U.S. exports all e-scrap, then
there will be 1/3 reusables, 1/3 recyclables, and 1/3 toxics “along
for the ride.”
If the U.S. exports no e-scrap, then reusables are destroyed,
and the countries will have to mine more virgin materials - “and
the mining does more harm than recycling,” he emphasizes.
The solution: “Set a higher standard,” urges Ingenthron.
A. If the material you are disposing of is “pristine”
eg: fairly recent computers and monitors with some value, then
you can deal with just about any recycler.
B. If the material is picked-over junk, insist on a recycler that
C. If it’s “I dunno...” then insist on a U.S.
company that can provide documentation.
He advises that municipalities and companies check the following
documents of recyclers: