The Urban Mining Innovation Centre
Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
Dr. Marcello Veiga, Dr. Maria E. Holuszko
and their team of graduate researchers
The Urban Mining Innovation Centre (UMIC) is dedicated to the scientific, business and social approaches to the recovery of valuable materials/metals from urban waste streams. UMIC is a new initiative being developed at the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at UBC.
Urban societies create prolific waste streams – 75% of the world’s waste is generated from industrialized urban areas. Some of these waste streams contain enormous mineral and/or metal value. For example, sewage sludge has been shown to contain gold and copper grades that exceed the grades of many operating mines.
UMIC goes beyond the recycling of metals from urban curb-side pickup programs and includes the recovery and use of all waste resources in the municipal environment some of which may contain metals and minerals, from e-waste to sewage sludge. Development of methods for sorting materials in these streams and for the recovery of metals from these streams are varied, interesting, and technically challenging. Mining and mineral processing expertise can be used to inform solutions to these challenges, but UMIC is being developed as a multi-disciplinary research unit and will apply an integrated approach to address these challenges.
In addition to the technical challenges, urban mining also involves some significant social and health issues.
In the western world, recycling is seen as a means to conserve resources. However, for some of the poorest people in the developing world, recycling is a means of living. For example, recycled plastics are shipped to slums in China and India and sorted by hand to be made into pellets which are then used for the manufacture of plastic furniture or other items. The working conditions of the sorters are dangerous and the pay scales are very low. A combination of appropriate technology innovations and policy changes are needed to change this situation.
UMIC will help policy-makers in both developed and developing countries to transform the current waste management paradigm into a more economically efficient and transparent system producing value added products from the various waste streams. with improved environmental outcomes.
Westerhoff et al, 2015. Characterization, recovery opportunities, and valuation of metals in municipal sludges from U.S. wastewater treatment plants nationwide, Environmental Science and Technology
Recycling slum faces redevelopment http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7354977.stm (Accessed July 2015)
True cost of recycling our plastic in India https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZMzleEKUH0s
(Accessed July 2015)
Slum Work = Recycling in Dharavi, Mumbai, India
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_IMpVnRtno (Accessed July 2015)
Hohenstein uses biotechnology to find ways of recycling carbon fibres
Rationale for UMIC
The Worldwide demand for mined products is increasing. Demand for metals and other construction materials are positively correlated to increasing world population, so we foresee no near-term softening of demand. Recycling has a huge potential of reducing the use of the natural resources and energy. A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report from 2013 cited evidence that the era of feasible and generally accessible mines is running out and recycling programs must be better designed and executed in order to supply future generations with the materials they will need, based on projected levels of consumption. In other words, recycling systems need to be able to fill the gap between current mining production levels and demand. But that last statement needs to be understood in context: it is estimated that only 25% of today’s current demand for metals could be fulfilled from recycling processes, even if metal recycling rates reached 100%. So, metals recycling is not an attempt to displace mining, it is a supplemental effort required to meet demand when supply-side constraints exist