Article and Graphic by Dana Kampman
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution the world’s ore deposits have depleted to dangerously low levels and the industrial thirst for aluminum has increased. China accounts for 40% of the world’s aluminum use, and is projected to increase its demand by 8-10% annually over the next 5 years, according to Novelis Inc., the world’s largest consumer of aluminum.
So where will the world get its supply? “New Jersey!” Dr. Subodh Das says with a smile. Dr. Das’s calculations show that it is possible to recover 4.5 million metric tons per year from urban mines, many of which are located just outside of major US cities.
It is estimated that U.S. landfills contain more than 20-30 million tons of used beverage cans, valued at approximately US $ 50-75 billion at current aluminum prices. According to the EPA, only 51.8% of aluminum cans in the US are being recycled. The new deposits of aluminum are increasing by 1 million tons annually; an amount valued at approximately US $ 2.5 billion. Put in terms of new aluminum production, the annual US used beverage cans being buried in landfills are equivalent to running three primary aluminum smelters (approximately 330, 000 tons per year/smelter) full time.
Dr. Das believes urban mining can absorb some of the world metals demand and reduce humanities future impact on the earth. The next steps to move Urban Mining forward include mapping landfills for metal deposits, taking core samples and testing techniques to separate the metals from mixed materials. Dr. Das and his company Phinix, LLC are currently working with students at Bainbridge Graduate Institute to further this venture and is looking for thought partners. You can find out more about Dr. Subodh Das and urban mining on his company website, www.phinix.net.