How urban mining promises a waste-free future

Urban mining stands for sustainable and future-oriented raw material extraction. Everything about the innovative strategy for resource protection

urban mining

Author: House of Eden

The term urban mining has been a familiar concept in the German recycling industry for some time now. But can this type of raw material extraction in urban areas really generate the necessary momentum to fundamentally change society's view of materials and their composition? This change of perspective would definitely be important. After all, the global demand for raw materials and the scarcity of natural resources lead to an urgent need for action to establish new material cycles and economic models.

Why resource protection is a question of social responsibility today

13,8 billion years have passed since the Big Bang and our society is in the Anthropocene. The new geological age in which humanity has the dominant geophysical impact on the earth system. And thus also responsible for the future of the planet. After all, their actions have the atmospheric processes, landscapes and ecosystems radically changed within this comparatively short epoch. And negative.

The complex effects of this development are particularly evident in our cities. Tons of material is moved, modified, built or thrown away every day, wasting valuable and limited resources. The consequence: scarcity of resources with social and ecological consequences. Countries like Germany that are poor in raw materials are therefore obliged to protect natural resources and use raw materials as often as possible. It applies materials such as concrete, base metals or Reuse and recycle plastics, in order to secure our livelihood, keep up with international competition and reduce energy requirements. The recycling of copper, steel and aluminum alone saves 406 petajoules of primary energy consumption in Germany - that accounts for almost 3% of the total annual expenditure.

Despite this knowledge, it is important not to distort the status quo: Currently, monetarily motivated ones dominate economic and consumption models, reproduced by the industries and consumers. It is therefore all the more important that new approaches sensitize society to their influence on the planet and open up new perspectives. Man-made waste does not have to mean environmental pollution. Rather, this waste can be understood as a valuable resource and our cities as storage sites for it. Urban mining is based precisely on this assumption.

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Urban Mining - That's what the innovative concept is all about

Urban mining, i.e. "city prospecting" or "mining in urban areas", is considered an innovative and future-oriented method of extracting secondary raw materials in an environmentally friendly manner. Instead of exploiting natural resources, the approach is about keeping raw materials that are already in the cities in the form of durable goods in the economic cycle and reusing them. According to the Federal Environment Agency, this includes Consumer goods such as electronic devices or cars but also infrastructure, buildings and deposits on landfills. This is regardless of whether they are still being actively used or have already reached the end of their life cycle.

This means that cities function as anthropogenic stores for valuable raw materials, so that a circular flow from raw material extraction to waste management is created. Whether domestic, bulky, hazardous, industrial or technical waste - our immediate living space becomes the source of raw materials such as plastic, paper, glass and metal. However, this requires the necessary know-how in relation to sourcing and recycling. For example, the consistent separation of waste can make a relevant contribution to a waste policy that enables and promotes urban mining.

From conventional to urban mining: sustainable and local value creation

What should be clear now: Urban mining is about finding, extracting and processing mineral resources. Similar to conventional mining. However, the yield and degree of exploration are significantly higher here, since geological deposits are much better documented than anthropogenic ones. The reason: Driven by economic interests, several billion dollars are invested in the exploration of natural deposits every year.

Urban mining is in a good position with regard to the recyclable material content of the stores. While many metals occur in low concentrations in their natural ore deposits, the same substances in anthropogenic deposits such as components, cast elements or machines are mainly found in their pure form or in highly alloyed form. In addition, the innovative principle offers advantages with regard to the transport distance of the deposits. Since geological deposits are often located in areas with extreme climatic conditions and inadequate infrastructure without demand or adequate production facilities, urban mines can Climate Protection, contribute to emission reduction and ensure ethical working conditions.

What the future may bring for urban mining

All in all, urban mining is seen as a hope that improves recycling efficiency and circular economy systematically and interdisciplinary. It stands for the trend-setting buzzwords sustainability, longevity and second Life. However, despite the growing importance of the approach, more funding, research and technological development is still needed. Materials often get mixed up and thus contaminate each other, hindering the recycling process. High-tech processes are needed for sorting and processing. A possible way out would be to design the product development with a view to reuse, recovery and recycling.

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