There is hardly any part of life today where electrical and electronic equipment is not used. It is difficult to imagine a life without mobile phones, computers, video games, digital cameras, DVD players and flat screen TVs. You could probably add to this list; think of all the other electrical goods in your house.
None of the above could function without copper which is the best electrical conductor of all the non-precious metals and used for the connectors, microprocessors, cables and printed circuit boards. In these products the amount of copper is high.
How much copper?
- A mobile phone contains about 16 grams of copper. In 2006, more than one billion mobile phones were sold; the equivalent of 16,000 tonnes of copper.
- A computer contains about 0.7 kg of copper. In 2006, 240 million computers sold worldwide, which represents a total weight of 168,000 tonnes of copper.
It is easy to see out of date or broken electrical and electronic equipment as a potential source of copper that, when recycled, could help to meet growing worldwide demand. This 'hidden' copper is sometimes likened to an 'urban mine', waiting to be 'worked' to provide a source of copper for new products.
Over the past few years electrical goods have become cheaper, rapid technological improvements have occurred and fashions have and will continue to change. This results in a continual demand for the latest model with a consequent scrapping of the old, with the potential loss of valuable materials such as copper.
How many people do you know with a mobile phone more than three years old?
It is estimated that one million tonnes of waste electronic and electrical equipment, called WEEE, containing approximately 110,000 tonnes of copper, are discarded by householders and commercial groups in the UK each year. This figure includes two million TV sets. Currently 90% of WEEE escapes collection and ends up in landfill or is incinerated. Both these options lead to the possible release of harmful substances such as cadmium and mercury.
These electrical goods are often difficult to recycle and must be dealt with by specialist, licensed companies since they contain different plastics, ceramics, glass, steel and non-ferrous metals such as copper, often in close contact.