The Royal Mint have announced plans to turn waste into gold, Let’s Recycle reports. The organisation will collect waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and use innovative technology at a new recycling plant in South Wales to recover gold and other precious metals.
The new plant in Llantrisant will be able to process scrap circuit boards and other devices, which are currently shipped abroad for smelting. The Royal Mint claim that up to 90 tonnes of scrap WEEE can be recycled on a weekly basis, and the new plant will create about 40 jobs for the local area.
Sean Millard, chief growth officer at The Royal Mint, said: “This approach is revolutionary and offers huge potential to reuse our planet’s precious resources, reduce the environmental footprint of electronic waste and create new jobs.”
He added: “We estimate that 99% of the UK’s circuit boards are currently shipped overseas to be processed at high temperatures in smelters. As the volume of electronic waste increases each year, this problem is only set to become bigger.”
“When fully operational our plant will be the first of its kind in the world – processing tonnes of electronic waste each week and providing a new source of high-quality gold direct to The Royal Mint.”
The new technology eliminates the need for high-temperature smelting, with only room temperature required for the process. It involves a new chemical based method which can recover over 99% of the gold used in the circuit boards of phones and other portable electronic devices.
The Engineer reports that The Royal Mint have worked in collaboration with Canadian clean tech start-up Excir to develop the facility. Scientists are now working on ways to scale up the technology, which they claim can use selective targeting to extract valuable metals from e-waste within a few seconds.
Electrical waste is a growing problem around the world, with millions of devices discarded for newer models every day. This has created an unsustainable situation, which current collection and recycling methods have failed to keep up with. Poor disposal of e-waste leads to toxic chemical leaks, greenhouse gas emissions, and wasted resources.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, the world generated 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste in 2019, of which only 17.4% was recycled. Although the recycling rates are steadily increasing year on year, they are still not keeping up with the voracious demand for fresh electronic devices.
The ever-increasing pace at which new technology is developed also means that devices have a very short lifespan, and become obsolete within a few years of manufacture. It is estimated that by 2030, the global e-waste total will have risen to over 74 million tonnes a year.
Precious metals lost in the growing mountain of waste include gold, palladium, silver, and copper, all of which have a high value on the global market. The Royal Mint have said they plan to build on the start they have made, and become a leading recycler of scrap electrical products in the UK.
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