What is Urban Mining? The more expensive and rare certain products and raw materials become, the more likely people are to ask themselves this question. Urban mining is basically about keeping raw materials that are already in our environment, in cities or everyday products, in the resource cycle. Raw materials that have already been extracted once are thus given greater value.
Since urban mining is entirely in the spirit of the Zero Waste Lifestyle contributes to the long-term reuse of natural resources, I would like to explain it to you in more detail in this article. You will learn everything you need to know about urban mining, from the definition to the advantages and disadvantages.
Here is another short Table of contents about the article:
Notice: I've also embedded the first part of a video documentary in this article that will give you even more practical insights into the world of urban mining.
What is Urban Mining?
The term urban mining (also known as urban prospecting) refers to the Recovery of raw materials through the reprocessing of existing goods of a city or an environment. The urban space is seen as a rich storehouse of raw materials. The so-called secondary raw materials already exist locally and do not have to be extracted and imported at great expense, as is the case with a large proportion of primary raw materials.₁
Simplified: As Primary raw materials refers to unprocessed resources - for example, fresh wood for paper production obtained from a tree. Secondary raw materials on the other hand, are materials that have already been processed but can now be reused or are available again for further processing - for example, the production of paper from waste paper fibers.₂
As raw materials such as oil, coal or iron become increasingly scarce and therefore, above all, more expensive, the idea of using the resources we already have comes to mind. It is a logical consequence of our society's resource-wasting way of life.
Without assessing the useful life of an asset that is still possible, urban mining refers to the Total stock of all existing durable goodsin order to be able to draw conclusions about future secondary material flows. By considering all intact, used and damaged or even unused goods, urban mining distinguishes itself from classic waste management, which focuses on the return of already accumulated waste to the material cycle. Urban mining also involves the development of new technologies to recover secondary materials even more efficiently.
Notice: Urban Mining also evolved into the associated Landfill Mininig, which specifically focuses on recovering material from landfills.
Urban Mining - Possible Disadvantages & Risks
With this form of urban prospecting, the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages. Nevertheless, we must not ignore existing criticisms of the basic idea. In the following, I would therefore first of all like to explain the risks and Disadvantages of urban mining from economic, social and environmental points of view. point out.
- Pollutants: Harmful soil changes and sudden gas leakage are possible when landfills are removed. The concentration of toxic trace substances can endanger residents and workers.
- Political problems: Mined raw materials are often shipped abroad illegally. Regular monitoring is difficult to achieve.
- Social and environmental problems: Since waste materials can often be extracted and dumped abroad more cheaply and almost free of legal regulations, environmental damage and diseases can be the result.₃
- Smell and noise: Odor and noise pollution of adjacent residential areas in urban areas is likely. As a result, there is a risk of disacceptance of urban mining in the society. These are social barriers to the overall recovery of secondary materials.
- Material quality: Reclaimed goods often have uneven textures and colorations. Thus, those who do not meet aesthetic requirements also jeopardize the acceptance of urban scraping in our society.
Urban Mining - Advantages & Opportunities
The idea of urban mining brings with it economic, ethical-social and ecological advantages. In the following, I would like to briefly explain how industry, society and the environment benefit from it.
- Resource conservation: Urban mining naturally conserves limited resources by focusing on the reprocessing of secondary raw materials.
- Nature recreation: The overexploitation of natural resources is an encroachment on natural ecosystems. Urban prospecting gives nature time to recover so that future generations can also mine and process new raw materials.
- Better living conditions for animals: Animals have more space and are exposed to fewer hazards from man-made objects and ruins. (Recommendation: The best animal welfare organizations)
- Reduced environmental impact: By eliminating existing man-made waste in the environment, the input of harmful substances into the soil, groundwater, or air is reduced.
- Fewer emissions: By giving preference to recycled materials, one reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of the mining of raw materials.
- Progress: Due to the steady, technical progress, the processing of secondary raw materials by urban mining is a less cost-intensive way of resource extraction, with lots of future potential.
- Cost-effective: At a time when raw materials (especially precious metals) are becoming scarcer and more expensive, urban prospecting is a cost-effective alternative.
- Advantage for small businesses: Small businesses can also benefit from urban mining because of the cost savings.
- Competitive advantages: On the one hand, the preferential use of existing resources in one's own country results in economic advantages in international competition. On the other hand, urban mining can also defuse competition for the use of certain resources.
- No delivery problems: Supply bottlenecks for imports from abroad can be ruled out by urban prospecting. Germany, for example, would not have to import ores & metals, which in turn reduces import dependency on primary producing countries.
- Large material quantity available: Since people in Germany use about 1.3 billion tons of raw material every year, urban mining allows them to draw on large stocks.₄
- Worthless becomes valuable: Unused scrap metal is turned into metal and construction waste into new building material. Paper, glass and plastic waste are also recycled into new items.
- Lower energy costs: Urban mining reduces the high energy input required for the extraction of primary raw materials. The cost savings in turn bring economic benefits to companies.
- Aftercare costs decrease: Materials that are landfilled are associated with higher costs. Urban mining contributes to the reduction or avoidance of aftercare costs for storage in landfills and dumps.
- Domestic Economy: Urban mining is an advantage for the German economy, as domestic value creation is increased.
- Advantage also for developing countries: The economy in socially weaker regions is not influenced by competition from the Western world.
- Lower costs for resource extraction: The recycling rare earths from smartphones, computers and televisions saves costs for mining and importing raw materials.
- More space in cities: Completely deconstructing stockpiles and landfills frees up new space in confined urban areas. This creates new opportunities for recreational activities in the city, for example.
- Growing labor market: The number of jobs is increasing. Both in the recycling industry, but also in the processing and further development of recycling processes.
- Better working conditions: Exploitation at low wages under dangerous conditions in the mining of raw materials is reduced.
- More attractive landscape: The cityscape and landscape will become more attractive and hold new potential for the tourism industry, for example.
Question: Can you think of any other advantages or disadvantages? Then feel free to leave a comment below this post.
Urban Mining - The Raw Material Source of the Future?
It remains to be said that urban mining represents a great opportunity for our economy, society and the environment. It creates new jobs, promotes the long-term coexistence of people and stops mankind's overexploitation of nature.
However, reclamation also entails economic, social and also environmental disadvantages or challenges. In a few cases, for example, urban mining poses a risk to soil and groundwater as well as to the health of residents and workers. In order to guarantee the desired quality in the long term, further technical progress is also required.
The cornerstone to eradicating these criticisms is to promote and develop the basic ideas of urban mining.
Do you have any questions, tips or suggestions about urban mining? Then feel free to leave me a comment below this article.
PS.: Look at the Zero Waste Blog by. There you can get even more inspiration to breathe new life into seemingly useless things.
₁ Federal Environment Agency: Urban Mining (as of 08.05.2017), available at https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/themen/abfall-ressourcen/abfallwirtschaft/urban-mining. [14.11.2019].
₂ P. Kloiber; INTERENA GmbH: PRIMARY AND SECONDARY RAW MATERIALS - A DEFINITION (as of 01.09.2015), available at https://wertstoffblog.de/2015/09/01/primaer-und-sekundaerrohstoffe-eine-definition. [14.11.2019].
₃ M. Gabriel (2014): Waste as raw material - the potential of urban mining for sustainability, available at https://urbanmining.at/Content/uploads/2015/04/Seminararbeit_publish.pdf. [14.11.2019].
₄ Federal Environment Agency: Consumption of raw materials rises again - to 16.1 tons per capita per year (as of 29.11.2018), available at https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/presse/pressemitteilungen/rohstoffkonsum-steigt-wieder-an-auf-161-tonnen-pro. [14.11.2019].