Japanese City Finds Treasure in Recycling Unwanted Electronics

Japanese City Finds Treasure in Recycling Unwanted Electronics

Many small pieces can add up to a big whole, and one small city in the north of Japan is finding there's money in the process as well.

Odate, a city of about 80,000 people in Akita Prefecture, on the northern end of Honshu, the big island of Japan, has begun diverting small electronics from landfills and using the town's mining history to salvage precious metals from the waste.

By putting collection bins outside supermarkets and community centers, the city gathering about 17 tons of e-waste in 11 months, from April 2007 to February 2008, according to a report from Harufumi Mori in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper. The gadgets collected range from broken appliances to hair dryers to cell phones -- all too small to fall under the scope of recycling laws in Japan.

Although they're small, they're far from worthless, the city is finding. After looking through just over one-third of the waste, Mori reports that the city might find as much as half a kilogram of tantalum, one kilogram of gold, and as much as 4 kilograms of silver and palladium. All from less than one year of collections in one city among a gadget-crazy country with over 127 million residents.

As a former mining town, Odate is well equipped to harvest precious metals from e-waste. The city put its skills to use after receiving a subsidy from Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. After 11 months of collection, the city has reduced its trash burden and found a source of income from waste that would have otherwise cost significant money to dispose.

After the success of the pilot project, the Japanese Diet has allotted 75 million yen (US$ 832,000) to support other recycling projects throughout the country. Tokyo's city government has set up 20 boxes to collect old and discarded cell phones in that city, and other parts of the country are getting on board as well.

Read the rest of the Odate story at asahi.com, and for more on the promise and perils of e-waste, visit GreenerComputing.com's E-Waste & Recycling section.