Landfill as gold mine

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TriplePundit points out a FastCompany article on landfill mining, an idea whose time may have come.

At IBM's recent Global Innovation Outlook conference, which brought together some big thinkers to hatch breakthrough ideas about the environment and other problems, one speaker captivated the audience by suggesting we could treat landfills as though they were mines--and dig up the valuable metals buried in them...A new approach, pioneered by recyclers in the past few years, uses rotors of magnets that spin very quickly, creating an "eddy current" with a strange electrical effect that makes aluminum and other nonferrous metals levitate and eject from the rest of the heap because they are both lightweight and conductive.

According to the US Geological Survey, one ton of electronic scrap from computers has more gold than 17 tons of gold ore. Americans alone trash 50 million computers a year.

A necessary step between here and landfill mining would be greater use of computer recycling facilities, which strip valuable metals out of computer waste before it gets into the landfill. This issue needs to be addressed immediately, especially as developing countries are headed down a path paved with millions of $100 laptops. They may be durable, but they're still disposable.

Ever since I spent a (hot, smelly) summer consulting at a Florida landfill, I’ve been convinced that we are not utilizing the full potential of our waste. Besides metals, landfills are full of methane. They account for about 13% of global methane emissions, according to Methane to Markets. The methane gas produced when organic waste decomposes can be captured and converted to usable energy (or wasted through the environmentally-damaging process of gas flaring and venting). At the landfill where I worked, they generated enough energy to power something like 16,000 homes through methane recovery alone.

Okay, I'll step down from the soapbox now. Landfills, inexplicably, remain near and dear to my heart.

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