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Gold’s Importance to The Economics of Recovery

Recovery of gold and other valuable metals from such scrap involves a complex metallurgical flowsheet and requires state-of-the-art recovery technologies that are available in large-scale, integrated smelter-refinery operations. At the Umicore plant in Belgium,for example, pure gold and 16 other metals are recovered with high yields. Perhaps what is not adequately appreciated is that the recovery of gold is important to the economics of recycling electronic scrap. It is the gold that makes the recovery of all the valuable metals economically worthwhile.

Thus a ‘design for recycling’ approach to the use of gold in electronic equipment assumes an importance when material choices are being made by OEMs; simply seeking use of cheaper alternative materials as substitutes for gold can damage the economics of recycling devices at the end of their life. One needs to take the complete life cycle costs into account at the design stage.

The European Directive on Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) aims to provide a ‘closed loop’ economy, that is, to foster environmentally sound reuse and recycling, and to preserve natural resources. This is about sustainability of resources.

However, in Europe and elsewhere, there are currently severe deficits in the recycling chain that hinder the achievement of a high overall recovery rate of gold and other metals. This is due in part to substandard processing of scrap in many ‘backyard’ recycling operations, often through the illegal and dubious export of end-of-life electronics to many developing/transition countries around the world. There is also an environmental impact, as discussed below. We should also note that recycling of WEEE in the EU and elsewhere has become a legal requirement.