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Mobile Gold

Our waste is worth money. Recovering it has started up a new global industry worth billions. It is called Urban Mining and it appears to be the solution for many of our environmental problems and our energy needs. And it is hot.

A ton of broken mobile phones, computers or other electronic waste contains sixty times the amount of gold a ton of gold ore has. Moreover, it is easier to get at. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of total world demand for rare metals can be covered by urban mining and this is only the beginning.

Urban Mining has a different, almost hilarious consequence: for years we have dumped our electronic waste in developing countries, with our eyes closed. There, it was to be recycled. But in Africa only one quarter of the gold, platinum and coltan is recovered whereas the newest technology in Belgium recovers almost 99 percent. So somewhere there’s a profit to be made. The NGO ‘Closing the Loop’ is buying up dead mobile phones and computer parts that we have dumped in developing countries making our waste a desirable sales item over there.

In Houthalen, Belgium, a start has been made to dig up landfills of which half the waste material, such as slag, steel, copper and other metals can be recycled into usable raw materials. The rest is incinerated, using a new plasma technology which produces green energy that can cover the energy need of 200,000 households for 20 years.

The principle of urban mining seems the solution for many of our environmental problems and our energy need. It creates a new recycling industry, gets rid of our waste for us and presents developing countries with a new business model.

This English version of the episode can only be watched outside The Netherlands due to regulations from the Dutch Public Broadcasting Organization. The Dutch version can be watched on this website.