‘The Size and Value of Urban Mines in Australia’
Research at Monash University is developing prospecting tools to help characterise and map the resource of used metals in Australian cities.
Global demand for metals for manufacturing is rising exponentially and meeting this solely through virgin mining is neither environmentally nor economically sustainable (WEF 2015). Increased use must be made of more sustainable alternatives including sourcing metals through reuse and recycling.
Wealth from Waste Monash is mapping and evaluating the potential resource of metals in Australian cities – ‘urban mines’ – focusing on two key areas:
- electronics in households, and
- scrap metal, such as in buildings.
Our work is focused around four discrete research enquiries:
- Developing an interactive atlas of recyclable resources: This is a GIS platform that shows where the stocks of used metals and products are currently located across Australia. It facilitates modelling existing and potential future flows towards waste, reuse or recycling either in Australia or overseas.
- Household electronics: Using survey methods we are calculating the quantities and potential value of different types of electronic products in Australian households and characterizing patterns of acquisition and disposal by product type.
- Collections systems: This work involves mapping and characterising the range of organisations currently involved in collecting and reprocessing used electronics and bulk scrap metal in Australia and gaining insights into barriers and incentives that affect the operations of different types of organisations.
- Mineral resource accounting and flow modelling: For specific metals critical to modern electronics and technologies, such as indium used in colour flatscreens or rare earths used in magnets in wind turbines or electronics, there is very little data to understand how much we have in mineral resources, how much we are currently mining and using, and how much is being wasted by the disposal of used electronics. In collaboration with researchers at Yale University this work investigates current flows of critical minerals across the supply chain to identify the most environmentally responsible strategies for securing these resources for future manufacturing.
This ground-breaking research contributes to the wider Wealth from Waste cross-university program which, along with Monash, involves collaborations with Yale University (US), the University of Queensland, the University of Technology Sydney and Swinburne Universities. The program is funded through CSIRO’s research cluster program and coordinated through the Institute of Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. More broadly, Wealth from Waste explores the feasibility of advanced metals recycling in Australia, anticipating future change in how value is derived along the production-consumption chain and identifying opportunities and positioning for Australia in this process.
Attracting academics from the disciplines of geography and environmental sciences, social sciences, geographic information systems, engineering and law, Wealth from Waste has brought together a network of academics working together to develop sustainable recycling practices for metal waste.
For more information about the Wealth from Waste Monash project, please contact the Project Leader Dr Ruth Lane:
Centre for Geography and Environmental Science
Ph: (03) 99052937