Is green technology in the U.S. at risk?
China recently halted all shipments of rare earth metals to Japan and drastically reduced shipments to the United States.
Sunday, October 31, 2010 - 11:05
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
China is hindering future production of green tech gadgets, computers, cell phones and defense technology because it has halted all shipments of rare earth metals to Japan and drastically reduced shipments to the United States. China has cut export quotas for rare earth elements by 72 percent for the second half of 2010 to the U.S. The future of green technology is at risk.
Rare earth metals are a group of 17 relatively rare chemical elements on the periodic table. Lanthanum, cerium, tantalum, neodymium and europium (to highlight a few) are used in products we use every day such as laptop computers, iPhones, magnets, catalytic converters, night vision goggles and even wind turbines. The medical field relies heavily on equipment that requires such materials to operate. Our high-tech world could not operate without these rare earth metals.
China owns more than 85 percent of the known global reserves of rare earth elements. By contrast, the United States owns around 2 percent. Now, the rest of the world is dependent on China to export the metals. It's projected that the world will need 200,000 tons of rare earth elements by the year 2014.
We need more efficient recycling of electronics
This is where SBK Recycle / Green Century Electronic Recycle comes in. Chris Regis is owner of the Portland arm of Green Century, and he says the company is in the process of working with Oregon legislators to change present wording in House Bill 2626 to make electronic recycling more profitable through collection of used electronics and resale of materials within "dead" electronic products. Green Century is also located in Tacoma, Wash., and Salt Lake City, Utah. House sessions in Utah in 2011 will hear proposals to changes in the bill to direct more recycling efforts to "for profit" companies, such as Green Century.
Presently recycling of end-of-life electronics are largely handled by not-for-profit agencies. These donation centers are typically inefficient in their overall handling of recycled or reclaimed electronics and metals. These centers are primarily geared to resell used electronic devices, and as a result they have minimal requirements to collect reclaimable metals. In most cases, the rare earth metals in equipment not resold is lost to landfills or incinerated.
Regis says, "the private sector has a vested interest in reclaiming these materials." Dismantling of electronics is labor-intensive, but it may soon be a crucial link in the United States' ability to continue production of new products for consumer, commercial and military use. Changing present legislation means efficiencies will increase, as would the reclamation of these rare earth metals.
According to the EPA, about 18 percent of electronic waste is currently recycled. This figure is weighted by the nonprofit agencies that typically recycle these products, further exacerbating these dismal numbers through inefficient practices and ability. (This is not to say that nonprofit agency efforts to recycle are not noble and well-intentioned, but given the current state of affairs, new efficiencies could serve the environment and future needs.)
The future of electronic recycling
Watch for other companies such as SBK/Green Century Electronic Recycle to step up reusing efforts. Cameras, cell phones, printers, televisions, keyboards, office machines and dozens of other consumer and commercial products can be recycled or dismantled to reclaim the metals. For further information on SBK/Green Century Electronic Recycle, click the link to learn more.
- House Bill 2626
- EPA Electronic waste stats
- Rare Earth Metals
- Green Century Electronic Recycle
- Electronic waste Wikimedia Commons
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