Urban mining of e-waste is becoming more cost-effective than virgin mining

Xianlai Zeng, John A. Mathews*, Jinhui Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

243 Citations (Scopus)


Stocks of virgin-mined materials utilized in linear economic flows continue to present enormous challenges. E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams, and threatens to grow into a global problem of unmanageable proportions. An effective form of management of resource recycling and environmental improvement is available, in the form of extraction and purification of precious metals taken from waste streams, in a process known as urban mining. In this work, we demonstrate utilizing real cost data from e-waste processors in China that ingots of pure copper and gold could be recovered from e-waste streams at costs that are comparable to those encountered in virgin mining of ores. Our results are confined to the cases of copper and gold extracted and processed from e-waste streams made up of recycled TV sets, but these results indicate a trend and potential if applied across a broader range of e-waste sources and metals extracted. If these results can be extended to other metals and countries, they promise to have positive impact on waste disposal and mining activities globally, as the circular economy comes to displace linear economic pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4835-4841
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2018


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