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Chinese companies harvest metals via ‘urban mining’ of electronic junk

Chinese enterprises are turning to “urban mining” to satisfy the country’s voracious appetite for metals, recycling the contents of abandoned household appliances and electronic devices.

The China Daily reports that a total of 56 enterprises from both China and abroad are participating in the First Expo of Urban Mining held in Beijing this week, showcasing the tremendous potential of recycling processes which are capable of extracting iron, copper, gold, silver and rare earth minerals from commonplace electronic devices such as cellphones, TV sets and batteries.

Xu Laiyong, general manager of a recycling company in Shandong province, said at the opening of the expo on Monday that his company is capable of extracting enough iron, copper and aluminum from an abandoned television set to make nine drink cans, 600 grams of copper wire and 3.1 pounds of dumbbells.

Urban mining has immense potential in China, whose economic growth and on-going modernization process entail the harvesting of huge amounts of metals and other commodities from whatever sources are available.

GEM High-Tech Co., ltd, a Shenzhen based urban mining company, is in the process of establishing waste processing centers throughout China and expects to achieve an annual processing capacity of 3 million tonnes within five years.

The company hopes to eventually extract 50,000 tonnes of rare earth metals via recycling processes each year.

China recycled 630 million tonnes of junk electronics products during the 11th Five Year Plan, from 2006 to 2010, according to the China Resource Recycling Association.