During the takeover mania of 1980s, oil tycoon T Boone Pickens had famously said that it was much easier to find oil on Wall Street than in Texas. Nearly a quarter century since, a host of companies are taking a similar approach by ferreting out costly metals from the e-waste generated by defunct gadgets, rather than in metal mines around the world.
E-waste mining is a process where valuable materials like gold, copper, iron and plastic are extracted from the circuitry of computers and cell phones, by using same techniques that miners use to process metal ores.
The junk that we are throwing away contains more aluminum, gold and copper than we find in the ores. These metals are used in the circuit boards of computers and electronic gadgets. One tone of scrap from discarded computers contains more gold than can be produced from 17 tone of gold ore. Mumbai alone throws away 19,000 tone of electronic waste a year, excluding the large e-waste imports from developed nations through its port. The trend is likely to increase manifold in proportion to the growth in the electronic industry and the life-span of electronics go down. The projected growth for the e-waste generation for India is about 34% years on year.
E-waste is often richer in rare metals than their ores, containing 10 to 50 times higher copper content than copper ore. A cell phone contains 5 to 10 times higher gold content than gold ore. Multiply this with 150,000 tone of e-waste generated annually and the numbers are pretty lucrative. The financial models that recycling plants abroad are working on are pretty lucrative too, says a study conducted by Toxics Link.
According to the study, 5 tone of e-waste, which would come from about 183 computers, gives a huge profit of US $ 3800. The math is simple: Taking a very conservative estimate of the materials recovered, total value of the recoverable materials from 183 computers will be US $ 6130. The input cost of 183 computers (from various market sources) is approx. 183x US $ 12.74 (inclusive of the logistics) = US $ 2330. Which means a good US $ 3800 is the profit margin for the recycler.
India already has a few small-scale regional recycling programmes that are employed today. Eparisara and Trishyiraya Recycling, both based in Chennai, are two such outfits. P Parthasarathy, director, Eparisara, feels that at each metro need 2-3 plants, each with a processing capacity of 10 tonne a day.
The industry seems to be waking up.Domestic and international entrepreneurs are interested in setting up plants in the country. Multinationals such as HP and Sony Electronics are also showing keen interest in setting up plants in the country.