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Why Chemical Recycling Could Change “Urban Mining” Forever

chemical recycling urban mining

The age of abundance is gradually coming to a close when it comes to rare earth metals and other finite resources. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the materials we’ve used to make different products are gone forever. After all, there’s literally gold in our waste!

Urban mining is an increasingly popular method of recycling previously mined materials from waste in landfills and commercial recycling facilities. Cheap raw materials are not so cheap anymore, which encourages manufacturers to look elsewhere. In the past… electronic waste filled with precious metals were simply thrown out. With the advent of urban mining, recycling e-waste is becoming very profitable, and improper electronic waste disposal is becoming less common. It’s not just e-waste either… think about all the valuable recyclable material that gets sent to a landfill daily because it simply wasn’t thrown into the proper recycling bin! More and more companies are seeking out urban mining initiatives to get their materials as a result of this abundance of valuable ‘trash’. But what about non-metal waste like plastics?

Urban mining in our landfills

Currently, urban mining is mostly limited to products that aren’t drastically different from the original raw materials like metals such as gold and palladium. However, scrap metal and electronic waste don’t necessarily make up the majority of garbage found in landfills. 

urban mining scrap
Plastic waste is a relatively untapped resource waiting to be recycled. And yes, certain plastics are currently recycled and turned into new products (CleanRiver’s commercial recycling bins are all made from recycled HDPE). But the majority of plastic gets burned or buried instead. Chemical recycling is something we touched on in a previous blog examining if styrofoam is recyclable, but we didn’t go into much detail.

big business recycling
Chemical recycling is intriguing simply because instead of using our current methods of chemical recycling which involves shredding plastic back into pellets, we have the potential to break it down further into oil. For more information on the process of breaking down plastics back into oil called pyrolysis click here.

Where urban mining companies can benefit from chemical recycling

At CleanRiver we’ve been working with commercial recycling companies implementing recycling programs and providing various commercial recycling bins and solutions to our clients for over 30 years. One of the hardest things for an urban mining company to deal with is contaminated recyclables. For every pile of recyclable waste that is relatively clean and easily recycled, there’s another pile contaminated with something that renders it unusable. Pizza boxes are some of the most commonly contaminated recyclables.

Pizza-Box-Bin
There are ways to reduce recycling contamination but chemical recycling companies have a direct solution to recycling contamination in general. With the ability to break down recyclable waste and separate the chemicals that are used to make the original products, it also “cleans” or removes any contaminant that would’ve otherwise caused problems for recycling facilities.

What will an urban mining company look like in the future?

As the chemical recycling process improves and becomes more sophisticated over time, urban mining companies may look very different than they do today. Wouldn’t it be great to see all that ocean plastic and landfill garbage become something highly sought after because it could be easily turned back into oil? It may be hard to imagine now, but your local dump could be the next big “oil patch” petroleum companies want to get their hands on. The success of today’s urban mining companies is already a testament to what can be done in terms of monetizing our garbage. Adding even more value to recycled waste with increasingly practical methods is the next step.

The main goal of commercial recycling is to create a circular economy where materials are constantly being recycled and reverted back to their original state prior to manufacturing. Paper, metal, and glass recycling has almost reached this goal with the help of recycling programs, commercial recycling bins, and education. It’s only a matter of time before we solve the plastic problem too!

Looking for more commercial recycling solutions? Check out these other blogs:

recycling, pain free, new year

CleanRiver Recycling provides a variety of innovative, flexible, and customizable recycling solutions. To determine the right solution to meet your needs, use the CleanRiver product selector.

If you have additional questions that weren’t answered in this blog post please call us at 1-866-479-4038 or email solutions@cleanriver.com.

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