Doing Our Part
Metal recycling is not only critical for achieving sustainability goals, but it also helps create job opportunities for people. With the growing demand for metal and the tightening of Chinese restrictions on the import of foreign waste, the metal recycling market in Southeast Asia has been ramping up. Recycling also allows resource-poor countries to become more self-sustainable.
There is, however, an insidious side to metal recycling. The millions of tonnes of solid waste, including e-waste, once taken in by China annually from countries such as the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and Singapore, was exacting a deadly toll on the environment and public health – and the country’s import ban in 2018 was enacted for a reason. While some in the West saw it as an opportunity to take responsibility for their own waste and transition towards a circular economy, the electronic trash was mostly just redirected to countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, and their eager – often illegal, Chinese-run – recycling businesses. While the extracted gold, silver and copper have made these dubious companies rich, reckless and mismanaged processing has allowed toxic elements also present in e-waste such as lead, cadmium and mercury to contaminate local soils and waterways much as they once did in China.
We can quickly appreciate that we cannot continue to mine our planet for its metal resources indefinitely, but we must also acknowledge that recycling solutions present serious challenges as well. While the extraction of metal ores can have negative repercussions, the recycling of metal-containing waste must be responsibly managed if we are to avoid similar detrimental effects on the environment and human health. Nevertheless, the simple act of placing our old and used metals into a recycling bin has the potential to change the way we continue to live our life for generations to come. Mother Earth has helped humans in providing us with the materials that have revolutionised our society and now, it is our turn to help Her by doing our part.