Everything we do as technologists depends on the critical minerals from which our devices are made. Recycling junk electronics is no longer just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. Everything we do as technologists depends on the critical minerals from which our devices are made. From iron, aluminum and plastic, to gold, coltan and rare earth metals impact, these raw materials affect the availability and price of the electronics we use all the time. What happens at the end of their useful lives? By now, the problems with electronic waste are well known: Recycling is difficult and expensive, and exportation of junk electronics from rich to poor nations incentivizes informal recycling that is incredibly dangerous to workers and harmful to the environment. But with extreme monopolization of certain mineral markets, particularly China's domination of the rare earths market, recycling has ceased to be simply a good thing to do, and now provides an economic hedge against volatile commodities markets. This talk will be an update of a talk I gave at The Next Hope (July, 2010, New York City, link below) and will outline the e-waste problem and how both regulations and materials innovation in places like the EU and Japan have put them ahead of the manufacturing curve, with special emphasis on rare earth elements. Any specific questions from economics to chemistry that are sent in advance, will be researched and answered the best I can. I work at a research university so there are lots of smart people to ask. A draft of my capstone paper is available if you'd like to take a closer look at how I approach the topic. Please note that the paper linked below is a draft...the final draft is due May 3, after the deadline for talk submissions! Talk image is courtesy of Greenpeace.
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