Overconsumption of electronic devices putting supply of rare minerals at risk

October 15th, 2019

A survey of 2,353 people in the United Kingdom has revealed that 51% of households have at least one unused electronic device. Given the prediction that six of the elements found in mobile phones are set to run out in the next 100 years, the survey highlights the importance of finding new ways to reduce the consumption of these elements, by reusing, recycling or even reducing the amount of electronic devices that we use. One of this year’s Green Alley Award finalists, RMF Tech from Germany, has developed a recycling technology to extract the critical material indium from e-waste.

Promoting sustainable electronics use is far from straightforward, however, and will require action from retailers, manufacturers, governments and take-back schemes on key issues such as data security and built-in reparability and recyclability, as well as clear guidelines and infrastructure for implementing a circular economy.

According to the survey, 69% of households with unused electronic devices intend to store these devices as a spare and only one-third intends to recycle (18%) or sell (14%) them. Reasons for not recycling unused devices include lack of knowledge about rare materials (59%), about how and where to return the devices (29%), and concerns about data security (37%).

The survey was commissioned by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

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