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In a nutshell: The UK's coin-producing Royal Mint will soon recycle discarded phones and laptops to extract gold, silver, and other precious metals from the devices using a "revolutionary" world-first technology.
The Royal Mint has partnered with Canadian start-up Excir to use the extraction tech, which is able to recover 99% of the metals found in electronic waste. It said the chemistry selectively targets and extracts precious metals from circuit boards in seconds. The gold can then be melted into ingots and used for Royal Mint products.
The mint produces more than 3.3 billion coins and blanks a year for over 30 countries.
The Royal Mint plans to recover the precious metals at room temperature at its main site in Wales, instead of the e-waste piling up in landfills or being sent outside the UK to be processed at high temperatures in smelters. Initial use of the technology has already yielded gold with a purity of 999.9. When fully scaled up, it could potentially recover palladium, silver, and copper, too.
Excir says the process is "an extremely mild and eco-friendly solution that can be recycled with negligible environmental impact." The company recently received about $4.3 million in financial support from a Canadian government-affiliated foundation that funds clean technology, writes the Washington Post.
The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 shows that consumers discarded 53.6 million tonnes worth of electronics in 2019 globally, a 20% increase compared to five years ago, and it's estimated to reach 74 million tonnes by 2030. The value of raw materials in global e-waste generated in 2019 is equal to approximately $57 billion, more than the GDP of most countries in the world, and less than 20% is currently recycled.
The mint's chief executive, Anne Jessopp, said the new technology would help to "make a genuine impact on one of the world's greatest environmental challenges."
Companies such as Apple and Samsung ship their new handsets without chargers and earphones as a way of reducing e-waste, though some question why their phones haven't dropped in price as a result.