Desperate need to recycle metals from gadgets as mining becomes unsustainable

Support us and go ad-free

The recycling of discarded electronic gadgets must urgently be increased. Mining the Earth for metals to make new gadgets is unsustainable, scientists have said.

A new campaign run by the Royal Society Of Chemistry is drawing attention to the unsustainability of continuing to mine for materials used in consumer technology.

More than the Great Wall of China

One study estimated that the world’s mountain of discarded electronics, in 2021 alone, weighed 57 million tonnes, more than the Great Wall of China.

The society says there now needs to be a global effort to mine that waste, rather than mining the Earth.

It points out that geopolitical unrest, including the war in Ukraine, has caused huge spikes in the price of materials like nickel, a key element in electric vehicle batteries.

This volatility in the market for elements is now causing “chaos in supply chains”.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Combined with the surge in demand, the price of lithium, another important component in battery technology, has increased by almost 500% between 2021 and 2022.

The society warned that some key elements are now simply running out.

‘Highly unsustainable’

Professor Tom Welton, president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

Our tech consumption habits remain highly unsustainable and have left us at risk of exhausting the raw elements we need.

It is essential that governments and businesses urgently do more to develop a circular economy which can tackle the world’s growing e-waste crisis and alleviate the strain on supply chains.

New research by the society also revealed a growing demand from consumers for more sustainable technology.

In an online survey of 10,000 people across 10 countries, 60% said they would be more likely to switch to a rival of their preferred tech brand if they knew the product was made in a sustainable way.


The survey also suggested that people did not know how to deal with their own e-waste.

Many respondents said they worried about the environmental effect of the unused devices they have in their homes. But they did not know what to do with them or were concerned about the security of recycling schemes.

Currently, less than 20% of e-waste is collected and recycled and is growing by about two million tonnes every year.

Elizabeth Ratcliffe from the Royal Society of Chemistry told BBC Radio 4 that many of us were “unwittingly stockpiling precious metals in our homes”, in old phones and defunct computers. She said:

Manufacturers and retailers need to take more responsibility…

Like ‘take-back’ schemes, meaning people can return their electronics to a retailer and be assured they will be recycled securely.

The society hopes to encourage people to take old and unwanted devices to recycling centres, rather than stuff them into drawers and forget about them.

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Yes we must absolutely re-mine from obsolete devices. Every little helps.
      It will be nowhere near enough, though, to power the Green, sustainable revolution.
      For that we need, for example, more lithium than has currently been identified in the earth’s crust.
      And Green energy, for all its advantages, is neither as reliable, nor as flexible, nor as efficient, nor as portable, nor as storable, nor as cheap as fossil fuels.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.