The United Nations says that if the world learned to recycle more old cell phones and other forms of electronic waste, there would be far less of a need to mine so much metal from out of the ground. Thomas Graedal, a Yale University professor who is also a member of the United Nations Environment Programme, says more waste management schemes, coupled with smarter product designs from manufacturers would have a major impact on metal recycling rates.
“Encouraging developed country households not to “squirrel away” old electronic goods in drawers and closets could help,” Graedal notes. “Recycling rates of metal are in many cases far lower than their potential reuse. Ideally, metals can be used over and over again. Do we have to keep digging it out of the ground?”
Of the 60 metals studied by the United Nations Environment Programme, less than a third of them have recycling rates of more than 50 per cent, with 34 of those metals having a recycling rate of less than one per cent. “In spite of significant efforts in a number of countries and regions, many metal recycling rates are discouragingly low,” the report claims. “The weak performance is especially frustrating because, unlike some other resources, metals are inherently recyclable.” The report states that large amounts of energy and water would also be saved if more attention were paid to recycling metals found in such everyday objects as used cell phones.