Wealth from Waste: the size and value of urban mines in Australia

Global demand for metals for manufacturing is growing exponentially and meeting this solely through virgin mining is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable. Increased use must be made of more sustainable alternatives including sourcing metals through reuse and recycling. To support these activities Wealth from Waste research at Monash University is developing new prospecting tools to characterise, map and evaluate the potential resource of metals in the ‘urban mines’ of Australian cities focusing on electronic devices in households (which contain rare and precious metals) and bulk scrap metal, especially steel used in buildings.

This study developed a detailed evidence base of the quantity and distribution of accessible resources from above-ground stocks and characterised this resource in terms of accessibility, both geographically and socio-economically. The project designed new tools and methods for calculating the size and distribution of the resource – what we might call urban prospecting. One of these tools is the interactive Recyclable Resources Atlas for recyclable resources in Australian cities that facilitates scenario modelling for future environmental impacts. It presents the estimated in-use stock of metals in urban areas in Australia and provides a comprehensive overview of the urban mines of the future in Australia.

The Project included a national survey of electronic products in Australian households and an evaluation of the barriers and incentives faced by diverse organisations currently involved in collecting and reprocessing used electronics and bulk scrap metal in Australia. In collaboration with Yale University researchers, Monash academics conducted a detailed investigation of current flows of specific minerals critical to modern electronics and technologies, such as indium, across the supply chain so as to identify the most environmentally responsible strategies for securing these resources for future manufacturing.

This innovative project is changing approaches to advanced metals recycling in Australia.

Chief Investigators Dr Ruth LaneDr Xuan ZhuWayne Gumley, Dr Gavin Mudd, Professor Mike Ward

Funder CSIRO Flagship Collaboration Fund

Date of Award 2013