Can Urban Mining Help to Save the Planet?

Yves here. Once in an extremely great while, the press deigns to cover the lives of desperately poor trash-pickers in places like India, who make meager livings sorting through garbage dumps to find saleable items, and live hard by them in shabby rooms made from waste heap materials. Sadly, even though the economic value of this activity ought to rise in an era of scarce resources, it’s hard to imagine that their terms of trade will.

By Tansy Hoskins, an award-winning writer and journalist specialising in the garment industry. She is the author of ‘Foot Work: What Your Shoes Are Doing to the World’ and ‘Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion’. Originally published at openDemocracy

We live in an era of mass overproduction. Offices, apartments, cars, ships, aeroplanes, mobile phones, laptops, batteries, televisions, furniture, air fryers, hot tubs, elevators and escalators. A countless multitude of objects that belong to the anthroposphere – a term for everything that people have made and how it all interacts with the planet.

Many of these products end up as waste, buried in landfill, incinerated or dumped – with catastrophic environmental consequences. At the same time, mining companies continue to pollute the planet, exploit local communities and produce huge CO2 emissions in the drive to make more products.

But what if there was a way to use what we already have, instead of mining for more raw materials? Could this alternative system reduce the need for ore, while avoiding the extractivist violence and exploitation that characterise the mining industry?

This is the idea behind ‘urban mining’. “When we talk about urban mining, we’re talking about mining what we have already made and brought into an urban context,” explains Jessika Richter, a researcher at Lund University, Sweden. “We can mine many of these same materials out of our products, so not all of them end up in landfill.”

A recent report shows the huge potential of the global urban mine, which includes all products that are in use, classified as waste or buried in landfill. These existing materials could be reused as raw materials, and any future waste anticipated and utilised. It is a field that, according to experts, can contribute to long-term environmental protection and resource conservation, as well as providing economic benefits.

Throwing Away a Fortune

It is also a field wrought with challenges. Think about all the things you’ve put in the bin or taken to the tip over the past decade, then expand that quantity of waste by every business and home in your country. It’s a huge amount of stuff, containing a mishmash of materials, and it could have ended up anywhere. “What enables urban mining is well-sorted waste streams,” continues Richter. “We should sort our streams at collection, as the more it is separated when we get it back, the lower the cost. Same with landfill – the more sorted the landfill, the easier it is to mine.”

As well as requiring good collection and recycling systems, urban mining relies upon people handing over products they no longer use. British charity WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) recently estimated that as many as 125 million mobile phones are being hoarded in people’s drawers and cupboards in the UK alone. “When you show children how much gold and copper are inside electronics their eyes light up,” says Janet Gunter at the Restart Project, a social enterprise campaigning for the right to repair. “We are literally throwing away some of the most precious and rare materials, we’re throwing away a fortune.”

Gunter is calling for a greater understanding of e-waste – any discarded product that has a battery or electrical plug. “The UK has really struggled to make recycling [electronics] accessible to people” she says, explaining that systems for doing so differ between councils and that people often cannot access household waste and recycling centres without a car. “One of the real issues is the opacity of this system itself – it’s really complicated. We need greater awareness about how it all works, who’s paying for what, where things go and we need to know that it’s making a difference when we recycle.”

Elements found in e-waste, such as gold, silver, platinum, indium and gallium, are not only expensive but essential for greener future technology, including wind turbines, solar panels and electric cars. If they end up in landfill, these materials can be highly hazardous, poisoning land and waterways. In 2019, a record 53.6 million metric tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide.

This ‘waste’ is a major part of the global urban mine, which includes an estimated 450 million tonnes of recyclable products present in homes and businesses in the EU. Tracking these products at scale is a complicated task, with data either scattered or non-existent. To tackle this problem, the Urban Mine Platform database has been developed to chart the number, type and components of products in existence – either stock or waste – on the market in the EU.

“The Urban Mine Platform is the world’s first platform that forecasts the quantity of elements, materials and products that will arise every year as a waste stream in Europe,” explains Pascal Leroy, director-general of the WEEE Forum, a global association that researches and advises on waste electrical and electronic equipment. This open-access intelligence allows recycling companies, manufacturers and policymakers to track down opportunities for urban mining.

Subverting the Status Quo

Urban mining is not automatically positive. Mining is an industry characterised around the world by extractivist violence, environmental destruction and worker exploitation. Urban mining is linked to traditional mining in a number of ways beyond its name. Included within the definition of urban mining are practices that closely echo traditional mining, for instance, re-mining conventional underground mines for materials that were once considered waste. In addition, the very existence of urban mining is due to the out-of-control cycles of over-production, over-consumption, and waste creation that have extraction as a foundation.

If this futurist industry is to become part of a sustainable future, can it avoid the harm that characterises the mining industry? Referring to ‘environmental racism’ in North American mines, authors Renee Skelton and Vernice Miller wrote: “communities of colour, which are often poor, are routinely targeted to host facilities that have negative environmental impacts – a landfill, dirty industrial plant or truck depot.” So how might urban mining subvert the status quo by taking into account social relations and land rights?

Michelle Murphy is the co-founder of the Environmental Data Justice Lab, an Indigenous-led, Indigenous-majority lab in Canada that focuses on the relationships between data, pollution and colonialism. She argues that, while “it is not an inherent bad” to reuse and repurpose things “because of the way that mining and extraction work, why would one trust that the same problems of environmental violence and harm to the communities that are living proximate to landfills wouldn’t continue?”

“Even to use the word ‘mining’ indicates a particular politics in relation to waste-landing,” she explains. “What other values, words, or frameworks could be used, that looks at waste-landed spaces, and thinks about the already existing structural harm in place there and works against them, as they try to repurpose material?” Murphy also points to the crucial question of land rights and the need to honour Indigenous jurisdiction over land in both rural and urban environments.

Nor is salvaging and reusing waste materials a new practice. Around the world, communities of waste pickers from Brazil to Bangladesh to Mozambique make a living by sorting and collecting things other people have thrown away. The term ‘waste picker’ was first adopted at the First World Conference of Waste Pickers in 2008, as a non-derogatory title that recognises people’s contribution to public health and environmental sustainability.

Sorting through rubbish dumps for metals, glass, textiles, circuit boards, plastics and even human hair is hard labour, in often unhygienic and dangerous conditions. “Waste pickers have for decades been mining different materials such as bronze, aluminium, copper which are directed to the recycling industry,” says Sonia Dias, global waste specialist at WIEGO, an international network focused on empowering the working poor, especially women. “However, the economic, social and environmental benefits they provide to urban waste management and to the value chain remain unrecognised and unprotected.”

While traditional mining for raw materials tends to be energy and capital intensive, urban mining is labour intensive. As urban mining becomes more prevalent, experts argue it must not be based on human exploitation. WIEGO is calling for circular economy frameworks to include fair payment systems and protected non-exploitative working conditions. “The cooperative movement in countries such as Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and elsewhere may be a source of inspiration for policymakers to turn to for lessons on how to improve urban mining,” Dias continues. “Support for organising, social protection and the design of inclusive urban policies is key to prevent exploitation of waste pickers.”

“I could imagine a beautiful version of [urban mining],” Murphy says. “It would have to begin with: who lives there? What are the forms of governance and sovereignty and responsibility to the communities that live proximate to landfill? Can those places be turned into sites of beauty and value, can the community have governance over those processes, as opposed to just a company coming in yet again?”

“What would it look like as a practice if the purpose was to meet the needs of the land, or to meet the needs of the community, as opposed to meet the needs of a manufacturer?” Murphy concludes. “What would these kinds of salvage projects then look like? They would look really different and who would be in charge would be really different.”

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    My first thought on reading this was a memory of a report back in the 1990’s that indicated that the average English new dwelling was elevated about 6 inches higher than previously, thanks to a new tax on construction waste going to landfill Developers found it cheaper to turn demolition waste into foundation hardcore. Landscaping also got ‘lumpier’ as developers found ways to hide materials they previously dumped.

    Poorer countries are of necessity, much better than this. The Filipino caretaker for my apartment building collects a vast range of goods, particularly mobile phones, which he sends home in bulk. These are then systematically reworked into useable products. Of course, poorer countries still have a terrible waste problem, especially with plastics. Which goes to show that its not enough to just sort out the reuse/recycling side of things – the crucial element is to outlaw or tax out of existence all products possible that cannot be reused or recycled in a meaningful way.

    1. Michael

      Remodeling my 1960’s home here in San Diego yielded similar surprises.
      The walls were full of scrap 1/4″ drywall following the “lathers” departure.
      The plasterers “knew nothing” nor the GC.

      How many tons of old cast iron sewer pipe is lying in the dirt under US housing?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I should have added that the flip side of this is that my sisters house in England needed expensive remedial work because when it was built in 1905 it turned out that they used colliery spoil to form hardcore for the foundation. Unfortunately, the high sulphur content of spoil doesn’t mix well with concrete over the long term.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I still think that what is needed is to make products that actually last so that they do not end up in landfill. In yesterday’s Water Cooler there was a lot of comments about how shoes had become crapified and so ended up getting thrown out when they fell apart. So how much in the way of shoes alone is being added to landfill? Shoes should last for years and I understand that high quality shoes lasted for decades. And this is just shoes. Now think appliances, electronics, mobiles, etc and you can see how crapification is leading us into the problem and how recycling these products us not sustainable long term.

    1. cobo

      Quality/reliability is absolutely the first step. The ‘urban mining’ shouldn’t be done by individuals sorting their waste streams. It should be done by requiring the producer/distributor/retailer to take everything they make/sell back. Instead of trying to make me accountable for putting my banana peel into an organics bin (I have better uses for it), make every type of packaging I encounter a reuse/recyclable variety. Hold the entire production producer/distributor/retailer responsible for tracking every valuable input from source through processing through distribution through sale through return. Don’t intimidate the individual, intimidate the industry.

      1. pay the piper

        Indeed. The only reason the potential for “urban mining” exists at all is because there is no accountability. Production streams need to be made circular with each member of the chain, supplier, producer, consumer, accountable to one another for all aspects of manufactured goods.

    2. jackiebass63

      When I grew up my hometown had a cobbler. When your shoes heals or sloes wore out you didn’t throw them away. Instead you took them to the cobbler to get new heals or soles. If a sown seam failed he could resow the seam for you. Our shoes lasted for years. Todays shoes are designed so you can’t repair them. The same is true for most consumer products. They have a built in life span and repairing them can cost more than buying new. Washers, dryers and refrigerators used to last 20 or more years. Now 10 years is about it.Clothing is no longer repairable.Because of how it is sown it is almost impossible to sow a torn seam. We are living in a throw away world. It is somewhat fueled by our obsession with economic growth.To survive things must change. The sooner they change the better.

      1. HotFlash

        If you have good quality boots or shoes, this place, Sole Survivor, can fix them about forever. They are in Toronto but do mail order. You are so right, cobblers are rare these days but were ubiquitous a century ago. My grandfather was one, busy up to the Depression, still managing during, after the war got by making custom orthopedic shoes. A reprinted census of Grey County, ON listed professions == most numerous? Cobblers.

      2. Edgar, not Edmund

        I was mortified, and educated, a few years ago when I took a pair of shoes with worn-down heels and mid-soles into our local shoe repair guy. He picked them up, and said, “You paid $50 for these didn’t you?” Which I had, a few years before , for an idiotic Store Manager sales conference when I was working for Glidden Paints. I hadn’t noticed that the crappy soles and heels were plastic, and not repairable. Lesson learned, and my first introduction to Sir Terry Pratchett’s Boots Analogy.

        Later Irony: that beloved in the neighborhood shoe man is now out of business, and replaced by a smoke/vape/bong shop.

  3. voislav

    Fun fact, Umicore, one of the three largest industrial metal producers (others are BASF and Johnson Matthey), derives all of its materials from recycling. I was visiting with them a few years back and they were quick to point out that their recycling facility in Belgium is world’s largest platinum group “mine”.

  4. JohnnySacks

    Shouldn’t buyers, distributors, and manufacturers share the burden of dealing with the waste their usage and profits generate? Considering the volume of material moving out the doors of Best-Buy, Home Depot, Lowes, Amazon, why do none of them share any burden whatsoever on how to deal with the externalized handling of their downstream debris? The bottle deposit was a good start, adds some reality to the waste consideration, retailers and users share the burden, but the nickel price is a leftover from the 70’s and nobody even pays a thought about tossing it in the trash.

    1. herman_sampson

      (Even though taxes do not fund the federal govt.), tax the above to “pay for” living wage jobs to retrieve, process and recycle these materials here in the USA. Outdoor jobs, largely,
      so ventilation, but also provide all needed PPE.

      1. cobo

        There is a lot of valuable matriel being buried daily in our landfills. One day, we’ll go get it all – but it will be dangerous work. The entire concept of these landfills is insanity written into the land.

        1. J7915

          IIRC years ago a german waste management engineer mentioned that the highest yield per ton copper mines are US waste dumps from before 1970s. More copper than the big hole in NM.

    2. cobo

      I absolutely agree JohnnySacks, see my above comment – Don’t intimidate the individual, intimidate the industry.

      1. pay the piper

        The Best Buy near me in NJ stopped accepting most forms of e-waste because of COVID and has not resumed. It still accepts small types but the whole process is spotty and uneven. Whole Foods as well used to accept bulbs and no. 5 plastics (not accepted by most municipal recycling), but stopped that a year ago and has not resumed. See “accountability” comments above.

  5. JB

    I don’t understand why the companies that produce and sell stuff, can’t be made responsible for the entire lifetime of the product – including breaking it down into its components and recycling every piece of it, at end of life.

    It would motivate more repairable goods, with modular/reusable components – designed with recycling explicitly in mind.

    Almost the entirety of the worlds waste problems, seem to just be allowing companies to externalize the waste cost of their products, onto the environment – and shifting the blame off of them, and onto the general public, in the process.

    There seem to be some extremely easy ways to make company-to-customer supply chains run in both directions, so that waste from goods sold by a company is sent right back to them.

    Amazon deliver you a package and collect broken/EOL goods they sold you at the same time (not to mention taking back their massively wasteful packaging). Grocery deliveries deliver you the weeks shop and take back all the crap/packaging/bottles etc. from the last weeks shop (and make them replace all plastic containers with e.g. sterilize-and-reuse glass containers, probably eliminating a good chunk of the worlds plastic waste burden…).

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      If we did that legally, we would also have to ban imports from countries which did not legally force their product-makers to do the exact same thing in the exact same way. Otherwise, foreign production from “no mandatory forced take-back and recycling” countries would be priced lower than our “forced take-back and recycling” product in order to drive our companies extinct.

      It sounds like one more good idea which will not be possible until Free Trade is abolished.

      1. cobo

        So ban them, call it a new world order greater reset tariff. We need to relocalize production anyway, right – too much fuel being wasted in transport.

      2. HotFlash

        Not necessarily. Back in the days before NAFTA, an importer was considered the manufacturer for purposes of warranty in Canada, based on English law. Perhaps that should be revived for waste disposal costs, hmm?

    2. Sue inSoCal

      Yves, thanks for this. The sheer amount of waste, including planned obsolescence producing e-waste is overwhelming. Yes, JB, I agree. Johnny Sacks’s comment brought me back to a few discussions by Flint’s Michael Moore (love him or hate him) so many years ago. One movie noted his following the “recycler” only to find the recyclables thrown out at the dump. The other was (mea culpa, I can’t recall the movie or discussion but it was forever ago) the cogent argument that the cost to which an object/auto/thingy harms the environment, peoples, infrastructure etc should be fully encompassed and integrated into the total cost of that product. Great idea! But I doubt that will ever happen, no matter what.

      1. Grayce

        The Japanese, during the rise of “Qualilty” practices, called that the loss to society. In bell curves for tolerance limits in manufacturing, the tails showed loss to society. The idea of tolerance limits is usually thought of only in customer acceptance of variances–what will the traffic allow? Yet, the loss to society factor once mattered. From Investopedia: In engineering, the Taguchi method of quality control focuses on design and development to create efficient, reliable products. Its founder, Genichi Taguchi, considers design to be more important than the manufacturing process in quality control and seeks to eliminate variances in production before they can occur.

  6. lyman alpha blob

    If planned obsolescence weren’t a thing, we wouldn’t be throwing so much into landfills to begin with. I had a nice metal toaster go on the fritz last week, looked up some directions on how to fix it, took it apart, and got pretty close to getting it operational again only to discover that the real problem was one small plastic piece inside that had cracked. If I had a nickel for every item that had a small plastic part that didn’t need to be plastic and that eventually broke rendering the larger apparatus useless, well I’d have a roll of nickels… But it’s really infuriating. My employer gave out those “reusable” metal beverage containers a few years ago and the lid had a small plastic tab on it to keep the slider closed. It was obvious that this would eventually break, which it did within just a few months. Due to lack of replacements parts and/or repair services, all of it goes into the landfill.

    And while some may be able to imagine a beautiful version of urban mining, that unevenly distributed future is already here and it isn’t pretty (not really sure why there are links hawking tourism services at the end of the piece after the graphic depiction of the disgusting conditions people are suffering).

    Urban mining happens while and especially after civilization collapses; it it not a tool to stop the collapse.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      I noticed that happening to my bicycle seats . . . . seat after seat after seat . . . . a small irreplaceable non-interchangeable part designed on purpose to break on purpose broke and forced the purchase of a new seat.

      Would people pay twice as much for a seat which would last three or four or five times as long? Maybe if they were arithmetically literate, they might at least think about it.

      1. cobo

        At some point, if we are to survive, the insanity (indeed criminality) of our entire industrial world needs to be addressed.

  7. John Emerson

    When I was growing up in small town MN waste picking at the town dump was a regular thing, mostly by HS kids looking +for pocket money but by at least one poor adult I knew of. Copper zinc and aluminum were the main things, along with scrap lumber and actually reusable items.

    People also went there for target shooting or to shoot rats.

  8. Hayek's Heelbiter

    And, of course, the ultimate urban mining (extraction?), waste plastic to oil via pyrolysis (which enabled Germans to fight two more years after they lost the Ploesti oilfields and South Africa to evade sanctions for years).
    Every year the process improves:
    And every year, the fight by Big Oil and Big Chemical to suppress the use of pyrolysis by municipalities grows ever more intense.
    Perhaps the first time in history Whack-a-Mole is stacked in our favour.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      HH: Can’t believe what I’m reading. Wow!

      I’ve been noodling on pyrolysis for years. It’s got issues – can’t quite get all the input molecules to break down into nice, simple easily-synthesized output molecules, like syngas*. So, there’s the issue of how to deal with the recalcitrant waste-stream.

      However, there’s an enormous input-stream, and the output stream could be a lot of syngas, which, if the right Chemical Engineers get hold of it, can be synthesized into fuel, plastics, fertilizer…the same products that today’s petroleum-feedstock refineries and downstream synthesis plants make. If the feedstock is waste (e.g. relatively low-cost)…might be interesting.

      Another benefit is that the downstream apparatus which could use syngas … might be able to use windmill-to-fuel (ammonia or methane) outputs.

      Grumpy Engineer touched on this a while back. G. E. – haven’t seen you post lately, are you still out there?

      A decent windmill farm provides intermittent, but substantial energy. If that electricity was used to synthesize a fuel (methane or ammonia, for ex), the “waste heat” from the fuel-creation step could be used for the downstream synthesis (many endothermic reactions, which soak up a lot of heat to power the reactions) to make higher-order molecules like ethylene, and so forth.

      And that windmill-produced fuel would be quite pure, so that means “fuel-cell ready”.

      Now we have a giant battery, in the form of a methane tank-farm, which is located right beside the fuel-cell farm, which is right beside the high-tension lines to ship the _constant_ flow of energy to the end-user.

      Wah! Windmills aren’t reliable. It’s intermittent! Wah!

      Well, maybe it can be quite reliable. And as demand fluctuates, it’s might easy to turn on and off a bank of fuel cells. Probably take a minute or two.

      This is the kind of stuff I was expecting Germany to do before they got bushwhacked by Galacticon’s New American Century. It’s perfect for them. North Sea wind, chemical engineers par excellance, lots of energy demand…seems so right for them.

      Go figure.

      * Syngas, or synthesis gas, is a fuel gas mixture consisting primarily of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and very often some carbon dioxide.

      1. solarjay

        Another type of electric conversion to fuels is called E fuel.

        This takes electricity to split water and using the hydrogen and CO2 can make hydrocarbons, such as diesel and gasoline.

        This could power hundreds of millions of cars, trucks, scooters, generators etc

  9. Tom Pfotzer

    I support the notions set out above:

    a. Make it to last
    b. Design goals for products: materials reclamation and functionality equal priority
    c. Make the buyer pay a deposit on the product, and get the deposit back when it’s presented for recycle. The “deposit” is what the materials are worth at the point of purchase
    d. Get rid of “landfills”. Re-purpose that land to reclamation, repair, and re-sale facilities.

    …and maybe a little bit more for extra credit:

    e. Increase landfill fees, low, slow/gradually (2% per year) to pay for the conversion from “dump” to “where I go to get my deposit back” and “cool place to get pre-owned materials for my next project”

    Modestly increasing the land-fill fees and using the money to build the circular economy is pretty good policy. It makes jobs. Reclamation can be a huge business, and we’re paying most of what reclamation would cost for mining and transport. Designing for reclamation, tho, is going to cost more at the retail point.

    The other point is that the circular economy will force mfg’g to locate closer to demand. That’s good for “local”, and it’s good for pushing some of the GDP into the pockets of the middle class. If that’s important to you.

    If the reclamation center also happened to have a decent-sized metals yard (sheet metal, tube, angle – the commonly-used stuff) and you locate a up-to-date metal shop there with laser-cutters, milling, lathe, 3D printing….then the “dump” would become “manufacturing central” for the community. You design it on your desktop using (free!) CAD/CAM sw, send it off the local “fab”, and there’s the components for your new machine. 1/2 hour later, they’re in your hands, ready for install. Need parts to fix those machines people throw away?

    If they’re simple parts, maybe the part’s manufacturing instructions can be downloaded from Central Library for a small fee – a few bucks – and get that part made here and now at the local Manufacturing Store.

    As for those reclaimed materials…trucks pick up the scrap metal, plastic, etc. take it to the regional smelter/mini-mill. On the return trip the truck brings … sheet metal, plate, angle, rod, etc. to stock the warehouse at the New Local Materials Depot / Fabrication Store. Truck runs loaded each way. Nice looking supply-chain, huh?

    Right now, “Dumps” are bad, low-status, untouchable. This is another one of those cultural blind spots we’ve inherited from time-long-past. Might be time to retire that attitude.

    Question for anyone with some marketing background: How do we re-position “reclamation and re-use” to be the place where the best party is?

    And, on the “never let a good crisis go to waste” principle …. “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Galactic Leader Worshipfulness: Instead of WW3, why don’t we do something that’s actually useful?”


    1. cobo

      I like your ideas. I recently went to the landfill nearby that services my region. I hadn’t been to one in a long time. They are such massively huge operations. I called to ask the fee before I went. I was tolg $85 for the p/u truck load. When I got there, it turned out the price was $118 – credit card only. I paid it, but I’ve noticed that the quite lovely road through the Altamont Pass to get there is now terribly blighted with trash, as are other area backroads. I think we need to make all aspects of environmental remediation and care full-time living wage full-benefit jobs. Getting people to cooperate through the nudges of price increases is like squeezing a balloon. The pressure will deform the balloon before it pops. We need to go all in on this

  10. t

    This is one of those ideas that I have been waiting to take hold since high school. Occasionally it bubbles up.

  11. Cetra Ess

    I intended to mention this earlier in response to some comments on how Cubans keep their cars going indefinitely despite lack of parts. I’ve lately been fixated on a certain youtube channel called Mechanical Skills which shows a section of Pakistan that can build, rebuild or refurbish literally any car, truck or heavy equipment part out of scrap, including the electronics and rubber hoses. Elsewhere in the world we toss the parts and order new, it’s cheaper, but for just a few measly hours longer and obviously a bit more labour, we could in fact be keeping our cars and trucks running indefinitely with fewer ordered parts. It has led me to wonder what else we could be doing along these same lines. We just consider the work beneath us, have decided our time is better spent on other things. But if I could drive my car to these areas I totally would and it would be perpetually new.

  12. albrt

    So I guess the guys who rip copper wire and plumbing out of houses in Phoenix are artisanal urban miners. They are just making sure that “any future waste [is] anticipated and utilised.”

    I think I agree with Lyman, this is what happens after civilization collapses, which it already did.

  13. pay the piper

    The original post is a bit “pie in the sky” and only hints at the huge (new and old) logistical problems urban mining efforts bring. But I like the direction of thinking. The big logistical issues are I think what prevent these efforts from taking root in a meaningful way. Companies won’t do it unless required. Regional governments won’t do it unless required. Regular folks won’t do anything either unless they’re required. This is very big issue and one that supports the need for robust collective governmental intervention. Requirements and accountability would provide motive for better manufacturing policies that minimize the need for urban mining in the first place. But in the meantime, a framework for the mining that should take place is needed, but there is little motive right now to create one sadly. Lots of great ideas in the comments to get this rolling though.

  14. Rod

    This is a ripe topic for our times. The Article should crack open many divergent discussions. I agree with all comments to a degree.

    The Author comments:
    “What enables urban mining is well-sorted waste streams,” continues Richter. “We should sort our streams at collection, as the more it is separated when we get it back, the lower the cost. Same with landfill – the more sorted the landfill, the easier it is to mine.” my bold

    I go to the Green Boxes (SC’s answer for households without paid collection services–no time to say more) about every 6 weeks with our Homesteads sorted residue–as well as the Landfill for Yard Debris, Tree Dump and Construction type Waste. There just last week–for the ‘time convenience’– dumping 400lbs of Pine Straw I raked out of the drives and graveled areas (and i do make mulch–piles of tons of it every year that gets put everywhere i can get it out of my way).
    I still do not see any of SC or NC Pellet Mills setting up shop at the Tree Debris mountain that the Landfill creates(like EVERY Landfill does) yet those Pellet Mills continue to pay for harvested ‘Scrub Timber” and supporting land clearing in every County surrounding them.
    This illustrates the Articles thrust.

    As a side note–I have sworn that if I ever had enough money, after the next big Hurricane, I would fly to India, hire the best ‘Picker’ bosses and a cadre of their best pickers, bring them back and have them be the vanguard of Hurricane Cleanup with a system of organization, evaluation, and activity that proceeded any Track Hoes, Bulldozers and Loaders.
    We don’t know how–they do.

  15. HotFlash

    Before we get to urban mining, perhaps we could look at urban recycling? Here in Toronto we have a pretty good recycling program, BUT it can only handle certain things — example, many plastics, but not black plastic. I’ve been told they don’t have a buyer, so black plastic goes into the garbage +> landfill. So why are groc stores allowed to sell, for instance, mushrooms in black plastic punnets, or meat in black styrofoam trays, whay are coffee shops allowed to sell coffee with black plastic lids? The Other groc chain sells ‘shrooms in tan plastic punnets, and both have available loose mushrooms and provide either paper bag or reusable-and-recyclable plastic bags for them. Nobody that I know of uses recyclable coffee lids.

    I have spoken to store managers about the black plastic and to my city Councillor about banning it, the reply is shrug. The city council did, briefly, pass a sort-of ban on plastic bags but that got scrapped. Not a coincidence that the Ford family (as in Doug, Rob and Randy) are big fish in the packaging biz here. The fawning linked article is old, but Rob is now the late lamented and Doug is our Conservative, let ‘er rip, Premier of Ontario.

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