Extracting gold from electronic waste

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JAPAN - According to Nikkei Asia, Japan, known for its limited natural resources, has a thriving market for urban metal mining. Urban metal mining is extracting gold and rare metals from electronic circuit boards. A factory located in the city of Hiratsuka, near Yokohama, receives a daily supply of piles of circuit boards and jewelry. The scrap is melted to extract gold, which is then shaped into ingots or round pellets. The mining facility, operated by Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, processes approximately 3,000 tons of electronic components every year.

The head of the facility, Akio Nagaoka, expressed his desire to expand the collection of electronic waste not only in Japan, but also throughout Southeast Asia, where the demand for recycling electronics is growing. Gold is considered a safe haven, and its prices in Japan have reached a record high. The World Gold Council (WGC) reports that the global supply of recycled gold has increased by approximately 10% compared to last year, to 923.7 tons, which is significantly higher than the mining industry's 3% growth. However, recycled gold currently accounts for less than 30% of the global supply. According to the WGC, only about 200,000 tons of gold have been mined throughout history.

With mining output stagnating, there is a growing importance in targeting gold mines from smartphones, old home appliances, and other scrap. Some businesses are expanding their urban metal collection and processing capacity to meet the growing demand. Mitsubishi Materials, for instance, aims to process 240,000 tons of scrap per year by the end of fiscal 2030, compared to the current amount of approximately 160,000 tons.

The Japan Institute for Sustainable Design estimates that Japan has approximately 5,300 tons of gold accumulated, which is equivalent to 10% of global reserves. The Japanese Ministry of Environment reports that every 10,000 phones can yield about 280 grams of gold, which is 56 times more efficient than mining gold from nature. The country's government is urgently promoting the recycling of gold and other precious metals in electric vehicle circuit boards to enhance economic security.

In August, Japan agreed to establish a common framework with Southeast Asian countries on resource recycling. They aim to achieve greater international cooperation to ensure the supply of e-waste. Currently, only a few countries effectively exploit this gold source. In contrast, Japan limits the export of electronic waste. Amendments to the Basel Convention entering into force in 2025 will expand restrictions on the transport of used circuit boards.