If you haven't already done so, it's time to dig through your storage boxes, find all those 0ld pieces of tech that you've replaced over the years, and recycle them.
Smartphones, computer hard-drives, modern colour televisions and computer monitors, audio speakers, rechargeable batteries — these are just some of the gadgets we use that contain 'rare earth elements' (REEs), also called 'rare earth metals'.
REEs are a group of 17 elements on the periodic table, which includes Scandium (Sc), Yttrium (Y), and the 15 'lanthanides' - Lanthanum (La), Cerium (Ce), Praseodymium (Pr), Neodymium (Nd), Promethium (Pm), Samarium (Sm), Europium (Eu), Gadolinium (Gd), Terbium (Tb), Dysprosium (Dy), Holmium (Ho), Erbium (Er), Thulium (Tm), Ytterbium (Yb) and Lutetium (Lu). As a group, they are used for a variety of purposes, including making lasers, magnets, special types of glass or lenses, x-ray machines and mercury-vapour or fluorescent lamps, or as chemical agents and even colour-additives for making ceramics.
The name 'rare earth element' implies that these are, in fact, rare, and thus the problem is that the supply is running out. However, scarcity isn't the issue. These elements are actually fairly abundant in the Earth's crust, but they are either scattered in small deposits or their naturally-occurring form is not easily converted to the base element, both of which lower the cost-effectiveness of mining them.
Currently, 95 per cent of the rare earth elements used in the world come from China, due to cheaper labour and little to no environmental regulations, but they only have around 23 per cent of the total world supply of these elements. Back in June, the Chinese government released a report about its rare earth mining, stating that they had already mined two-thirds of their total supply. With prices of REEs already on the rise due to higher export fees, they will rise even higher as the market shifts to other countries, and this higher cost will be passed on to the consumer.
There are environmental concerns about rare earth elements as well. Mining of these can release radioactive elements and toxic chemicals into the local water supply while refining them requires toxic acids.
By recycling the old technology that you have lying around the house, especially those gadgets with rare earth magnets in them, you can reduce the need for new sources of REEs, and thus keep the prices of the technologies that depend on them lower.
If you have tech you'd like to recycle, there are programs that can help you, some will even buy back your products or give you discounts towards other purchases. Some links to these are below:
- Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (with links to provincial programs)
- Dell Canada Recycling
- Lenovo Recycling Programs
- Recycle My Cell
Here's an interesting Mashable.com infographic on sustainable technology.