Chilean, U.S. firms join effort to expand e-waste recycling

June 13, 2013 at 3:48 PM
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SANTIAGO, Chile, June 13 (UPI) -- Urban mining, a growing industry focused on extracting metals from discarded computers and other electronic waste, is set to grow in Latin America with benefits accruing to the United States.

Recent studies showed Americans make less re-use of their computer detritus than their poorer counterparts in Central and South America.

Urban mining, successor to an age-old practice pursued worldwide by the urban poor to save themselves from starvation and vagrancy, is a major growth area across Latin America.

Tens of thousands have lived off meager earnings picking reusable materials and objects at rubbish dumps.

Independent recycling of discarded goods in South America's slums is said to be as old as in Asia, Africa and poorer parts of Europe. Only recently have local governments, and then independent industries, regularized rubbish collection and developed modern recycling.

San Jose, Calif., firm Green Technology Solutions, Inc. says it is joining hands with Chile's leading recycler of electronic waste in a joint venture.

Chile's proven expertise in metal smelting is key to the country's rise in e-waste recycling. The Latin American country produces more than a third of the world's copper and is a significant extractor and exporter of gold and other metals.

Both copper and gold are used widely in electronics. For many Chileans, recycling electronic waste holds a special fascination as they point out Chilean copper or gold may travel across the globe for processing in computers and other devices, only to end up again Chile as part of the consumer world's electronic waste mountains.

Green Technology Solutions, Inc., a high-tech international provider of environmentally friendly mining solutions, said this week it finalized a joint venture agreement with leading Latin American e-waste recycler Chilerecicla.

Chilerecicla was founded in 2009 and opened its first e-waste recycling plant in southern Chile.

The company has headquarters in the city of Chillan, 250 miles south of Santiago. Chilerecicla specializes in the direct removal of electronic waste from clients' premises for transport to its central plant as well as the sale of reusable materials.

Latin America is widely seen as a key emerging market in the booming the global e-waste recycling and reuse services industry.

"Chile is poised to become a world leader in urban mining," GTSO Chief Executive Officer Paul Watson said.

Transparency Market Research said the global e-waste recycling industry accounted for more than $9 billion in 2012.

That market is expected to reach $18 billion in 2017, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 13.2 percent from 2012 to 2017, GTSO said.

Watson said, "Chilerecicla was a very attractive target because they enjoy excellent access to public funds focused on innovation. We see this as the beginning of a very fruitful partnership in this emerging region."

GTSO says Chile has been a focus of its efforts to expand its urban mining footprint due to its high rate of industrialization, sustainable mining operations, affordable labor and local business connections with the company's consultants at CCI Capital SpA.

The company's intention is to compete alongside major international corporations striving for sustainable manufacturing solutions, such as Sprint Nextel Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. Late in 2012, GTSO acquired U.S. company Global Cell Buyers and renamed it Green Urban Mining as part of a plan to expand recycling and resale.

Green Urban Mining has been collecting used cellphones and other household and business electronic waste in about the same way as Latin American, African and Asian counterparts.

The company website exhorts citizens to earn cash while recycling: "E-waste contains many valuable, recoverable materials such as aluminum, copper, gold, silver, plastics, and ferrous metals. In order to conserve natural resources and the energy needed to produce new electronic equipment from virgin resources, electronics such as iPhones, iPads, laptops, MP3 players, computer monitors, and more can be refurbished, reused, and recycled instead of being dumped."

Analysts say the contrast in minimum wages between North and South America is likely to remain a major hurdle to promote recycling on a comprehensive nationwide scale in Canada or the United States. An alternative would be a more efficient publicity campaign and proliferation of e-waste collection networks.

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