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Korea to boost mineral recycling

Rising costs, demand call for nation to be self-reliant by reusing waste


South Korea is preparing to step up efforts to recycle minerals from used electronics and industrial waste in a bid to secure self-reliant sources of minerals on growing demand, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said Friday.

The process, termed “urban mining,” refers to reclaiming compounds and elements from products and waste to later be reused for feeds of industrial material, according to Urban Mining, a U.S.-based international organization which promotes the industry.

The global interest for such an alternative for securing minerals has been growing over the years due to the ever-intensifying international competition regarding resources.

This has largely been triggered by the soaring demand in emerging economy countries such as China and India. Rising global prices of commodities including raw materials was another reason, industry watchers said.

Korea, as most other countries around the world, has been affected by this challenging environment.

The country ambitiously aims to recycle minerals from electronics such as cell phones and laptops whose lifespan has expired, cars and other industrial waste.

“Should urban mining become vitalized in the country, Korea will be able to curb its trade deficit by reducing raw material imports and ensure a stable supply of resources including rare earth minerals,” ministry officials said.

The country estimates minerals contained in its electronic and industrial wastes generated annually to be worth around 4 trillion won.

The list of minerals to be reclaimed from such wastes includes copper, aluminum, gold and silver, plus rare metals such as nickel, cobalt and lithium.

Around five grams of gold can be retrieved from 1 ton of gold ore and 150 grams from 1 ton of cell phones, according to the ministry.

As a nascent effort, local firms involved in urban mining decided to forge a cooperation network to invigorate the industry in the country.

Around 40 firms including LS-Nikko Copper Inc., Korea Zinc Co. and Aikang Remetech Co. have jointly launched an association in southern Seoul on Friday to further their teamwork.

The association will seek technological innovation, standardize sampling and analyzing methods, and create an information network among member firms, it said.

The ministry said it would back the group’s activity to promote a circular use of resources by providing them with suitable regulations and policies.

Urban mining has recently become increasingly popular in environment-conscious developed countries including the United States and those in Europe.

For example, LG Electronics USA and Panasonic, have been leading an initiative of recycling consumer electronics. Panasonic, in particular, has pledged to triple the amount of their annual recycling by 2016.

Ford, meanwhile, has reused nearly 4.1 million pounds of carpet into cylinder head covers, the automaker said.

So far the process has recycled an amount of carpet equivalent to nearly 154 football fields, preventing the use of more than 430,000 gallons of oil, according to the automaker.

By Koh Young-aah (youngaah@heraldcorp.com)
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