Urban Mining: The Hunt For Rare Metals

Urban mining is a new concept for getting more people to recycle their old electronic gadgets and other stuff that contains precious metals. These include gold, silver, platinum, iridium and a range of others, that make your cell phone go beep and blink. Without these rare metals, the Pantone colours on my Sharp 812SH display would look a lot less bright, and you can probably forget about your new iPhone display, as they become too expensive to mass-produce.

In northern Japan, Takashi Nakamura, a professor at Tohoku University working on the urban mining project in Akita, notes that if Japan wants to survive the era of industrialization, the government should create a social framework to collect rare metals as soon as possible. In Akita, they have set up special recycle boxes at supermarkets.

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In Japan, only Akita is currently collecting digital cameras, music players, game machines and gadgets other than phones. Collection boxes ask people to toss in their old cell phones and digital cameras. The posters are very educational and explain why it is important to not throw your old gadget in the ordinary trash bin.

Don't throw electronic devices away: "It is also an important resource," the posters say.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government has started to pay attention to the issue, and held consultations in March, 2008 on collecting mobile phones, but concrete measures have yet to be worked out.

Meanwhile, big cell phone companies like NTT DoCoMo Inc. are placing collection boxes at 50 large electronics shops and convenience stores in Tokyo, but an official at the Telecommunications Carriers Association said much more goes to waste, according to The Japan Times.

Rare or "critical" metals are indispensable metal elements for high-tech industries. In order to secure sufficient resources and ensure stable procurement, it is necessary to establish a comprehensive management system for a critical metal resource strategy, Takashi Nakamura said to TechOn, a Nikkei website. For this purpose, "resource diplomacy and the development of technology for effective recovery and recycling must be promoted, in addition to material development for utilizing procurable ubiquitous elements."

Images adapted from Dowa Eco-System Co. Ltd., that operates Japan's largest landfill, also in Akita prefecture, as a global environmental management company with offices in China, Taiwan, and the US. Seems like a company to watch out for, and not take anything at face value, while we appreciate what they try to do.

Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp

Tags: Electronics | Japan | Reusability