Are you concerned...
- your customer base wants you to be climate neutral - but you don't know how
- your managers struggle to implement ESG policies
- your waste supplier lacks transparency
- your waste collectors mishandle eWaste
- your employees mishandle eWaste
- that regulators require you to report and evidence your climate progress, but you lack the data and supporting activities
Or maybe you are worried about ...
- supply chain disruptions in critical minerals that impact electronics purchases
- the lack of choice when choosing waste suppliers
- the reputational damage if fined by regulators
- MobiCycle's technologies advance the circular economy by helping you supercharge your corporate ESG program. We also support calls for a new waste sector, 'urban mining'.
- We consider two questions: a.)How do mining for critical minerals; and, eWaste recycling, impact greenhouse gas emissions? b.)Can urban mining lessen the need for mining and improve the recycling of eWaste?
Tech will not save us.
Our consumption patterns increase the risk of climate catastrophe. Rather than focus on behavior change, we reach for technological solutions such as carbon capture or mining on the moon, in the deep sea, or in geothermal brine. Such proposals are not scalable, rely on fossil fuels to work, or neglect the impact on soil, water and air, and biodiversity.
a.)The proposals are not scalable.
Entirely new green industries are unlikely to be established in time to avoid 1.5 (or 2) degrees of global warming. Demand for the minerals needed to power clean technologies will increase by as much as 500% by 2050. Examples of the minerals needed include graphite, lithium and cobalt.
b.)The proposals rely on fossil fuels.
Take wind turbines, for example. They neither produce greenhouse gas emissions, nor require water to produce energy. But we produce emissions in order to make wind turbines. A turbine's emissions are embedded in its parts - stainless steel, concrete, fibreglass, copper and cast iron.
c.)The proposals fail to address the impact on soil, water, air and biodiversity.
The green economy is an electrified economy. Electronics rely on critical minerals. Mining the deep sea to extract these minerals disrupts ocean floors. Mining with geothermal brine poisons the soil and, in the event of a spill, kills surrounding life. Mining the moon for critical minerals may encourage more cheap devices. The discarded electronics would then overwhelm our landfills, recycling facilities and waste incineration plants.
Landfilled eWaste currently pollutes our soil and water. eWaste recycling facilities crush the devices so finely that reclamation of the minerals becomes unlikely. Incinerators release toxins into our air.
Waste incineration plants burn all types of waste. eWaste is incinerated when it (accidentally) becomes commingled with other waste streams during collection. eWaste is also incinerated when shipped overseas to countries that lack a formal recycling sector.
Plant and animal life are in a state of collapse due (at least in part) to current mining practices, poor logistics and too few recycling facilities.
Your are vulnerable to supply chain disruption in electronics.
Electronics supply chains require more geographical and supplier diversity. During COVID, we became aware of just how narrow our electronics supply chains really are.
To meet your electronics demands and eliminate single points of failure in your supply chain, you may procure from alternative suppliers. While supply chain disruption is a real cause for concern, be forewarned. During a crisis, these alternative suppliers may not fill your purchase orders. Substitute suppliers are often subsidiaries of one or two global companies, based in one or two countries.
Even if you manage to procure the electronics from alternative suppliers, a robust due diligence policy is needed to avoid compliance failures. Electronic waste is a sector notorious for poor labor practices, when considered on a global scale.
Bad actors, known as shadow vendors, dump electronics overseas and/or commit human rights abuses. Shadow vendors are difficult to discover, either because they are hidden in your value chain under incorrect documentation, or are embedded far down the chain.
Greater transparency around your business processes, coupled with an ambitious Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) program, may discourage unfair labor practices and help you avoid environmental degradation. Skip ahead to learn about MobiCycle's Solutions.
Your shareholders may force you to care about ESG.
Shareholders sue corporations that falsely proclaim to be sustainable or ESG compliant. At risk is your organization's reputation, stock value and even your job. In May 2022, HSBC suspended their head of responsible investing. He called climate warnings ‘shrill’. In the same month, the CEO of a subsidiary of Deutsche Bank resigned, following accusations of greenwashing. Greenwashing is the false or misleading portrayal of the environmental impact of an organization's activities, products or services.
Conflict minerals contribute to greenwashing.
Conflict minerals are critical minerals that hurt the people or planet during the mining process. A company that knowingly sources electronics made from conflict minerals, yet proclaims to be environmentally conscious, engages in greenwashing.
What about conflict free minerals?
The US defines conflict free minerals as those that did not directly or indirectly benefit armed groups in the Democatic Republic of the Congo (DRC) during the extraction process. US legislators focus on just four of the 35 critical minerals. The four metals are tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold.
The largest tantalum deposit in the U.S. is the Round Top deposit in Texas, which contains reported resources of 480 million metric tons. There are no current U.S. producers of tantalum. Brazil's Advanced Metallurgical Group owns the world's second largest tantalum company, with the MIBRA project. 39 percent of US tantalum imports come from China.
Tin is used in solders for electrical/electronic circuits. Belgium’s Metallo Chimique, Peru-based, privately owned Minsur are the two largest tin companies not based in China. Metallo Chimique has a recycling and refining facility.
Bolivia's Comibol, a state-owned mining umbrella company, is one of the world's largest providers of tungsten. In Europe, Wolfram’s Mittersill mine, which is located in Salzburg, hosts the largest tungsten deposit in Europe. Spain's Almonty Industries and W Resources and Portugal's Panasqueira and Borralha mines are among the largest tungsten mines.
Less than 0.1% of potential sites will lead to a productive gold mine. Only 10% of global gold deposits contain sufficient gold to justify further development.
An international perspective on climate change and eWaste.
Countries whose citizens consume the bulk of the world's electronics, outsource their carbon footprint. Recent wars demonstrate the risks of outsourcing your supply chain. The extraction and processing of minerals is an upstream risk. The remediation of discarded electronic equipment represents a downstream risk.
Upstream Risks: Extraction
We extract key critical minerals such as neon, nickel, palladium, polysilicon and cobalt. Neon comes from Mariupol and Odessa in the Ukraine. Nickel is sourced from China, Indonesia and Russia. China and Russia provide palladium (semiconductors), polysilicon (for solar panels) and cobalt (for mobile phones).
Upstream Risks: Minerals processing
Minerals processing requires their breakdown, concentration, and doping. Up to 90 percent of minerals processing occurs in China. The US processes around 4% of critical minerals. Each mineral processing facility costs up to 1 billion usd. The US has fewer than ten.
Downstream Risk: Remediation
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes require manufacturers and retailers of electronic and electrical equipment to fund the collection and remediation of the devices they place on the market. The fees charged are too low to pay for the (e)waste bins, the data collection and tracking of eWaste, recycling facilities, and more. Governments may not receive payments in a timely or consistent manner.
US policy is shifting toward local mining and minerals processing.
The Defence Production Act (DPA) is often used to motivate change. The DPA will offer new permits to mine for critical minerals (in consultation with Native American tribes and local communities, apparently).
The US Geological Survey (USGS), a federal government agency, is in the process of creating a national-scale, geospatial database to be the authoritative source of the most important mines, mineral deposits, and mineral districts of the United States.
Conclusion: The green transition should rely on urban mining, not mining.
In spite of the hype, a transition to a green or renewable economy may be catastrophic for the environment. A green economy relies heavily on critical minerals. As present, that means a green economy relies on mining.
We will pollute the planet if we rely on mining to support the transition to a green economy. Instead, we should recapture critical minerals from abandoned electronics, in a process known as "urban mining".
Barriers to urban mining.
Urban mining simultaneously addresses issues with the upstream and downstream climate impacts of electronics and electrical equipment. It requires both the takeback of electronics; and, shipments to advanced recycling plants. Today's recycling plants mostly crush the devices. We need new recycling plants that can take apart the devices to recover the embedded critical minerals. Complex electronic devices require advanced recycling plants.
The US acknowledges the importance of recycling, but does not yet support their position with funding. At present, the Biden administration is focused on battery recycling - principally for the 1 trillion dollar automotive industry.
MobiCycle's Solution #1: Embed best practices by industry leaders.
Supply chains can implement recommendations by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD's evidence-based international standards solve, social, economic and environmental challenges. Best practices for downstream Market Makers, Manufacturers, and End users include:
1. Identify ‘choke points’ in your supply chain (e.g. metal smelter or refiners)
2. Understand how your supply chain performs due diligence on its upstream suppliers(e.g. both through individual efforts and industry auditing)
3. Use collective industry leverage to encourage improvement of upstream due diligence
4. Report publicly on the efforts you take to perform due diligence
Tangible steps you can take include:
- Adopt a policy for responsible supply chains of minerals.
- Assemble an internal team to oversee supply chain due diligence.
- Ensure that the necessary budget resources are assigned and that a senior manager is ultimately accountable.
- Communicate company policy, actions and expectations related to responsible sourcing to suppliers.
- Companies should incorporate these expectations into supplier contracts and consider other ways to support the capabilities of suppliers to fulfil responsible sourcing expectations.
- Establish an internal system of transparency, information collection, and records of supply chain due diligence processes, findings and resulting decisions.
- Maintain records on the identity of smelters & refiners, or any other suppliers at points of transformation where the mineral is processed to reach commercial market quality, once this information is collected.
MobiCycle's Solution #2: Invest in data driven behavior change.
As you analyze your supply chain, leverage tech. Push your data into a data lake. Once in the data lake, use artificial intelligence and natural language processing to cut through the noise and understand what matters.
Data aggregators may help you unearth hidden vendors. It may be possible to find subcontractor information without having all of their information. Import/export data sorted by region can reveal smaller companies.
MobiCycle's Solution #3: Adopt a holistic approach.
Ask your vendors across your supply chain questions about employee working conditions.
See how your entities in your eWaste supply chain do business. Buy from manufacturers and retailers who use recycled materials, and treat their employees with dignity.
Support the creation of an eWaste mining program. Report your Scope 3 emissions across all 15 categories for all waste streams. Track the amount of methane created by the eWaste you send to landfill.
Work with us before tipping points become a permanent reality.