In the digital age, technology is evolving so fast with new electronic and computing products making it into the consumer market place faster than some children eat their dinner.
In the UAE, where new and improved products are available to consumers year-round, the regular replacement of ‘old' electronics with upgrades has become habitual. However, it is rare for insatiable consumers of this day and age to stop and ask where their electronic waste ends up.
Marketing students Mohammad Ebrahim Asif and Fawal Anjum Naseer from the American University of Sharjah did stop to think and have found a hypothetical way to profit from others' e-waste.
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"E-waste can be anything from fridges to mobile phones, computers or laptops," said Asif. "Within e-waste are mother boards called printed circuit boards (PCBs) which contain valuable metals which can be broken down and sold."
The four main precious and scrap metals found in most PCBs are gold, palladium, silver and copper.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 2010-2011 figures for trends in sustainable development show that up to 50 million tonnes of e-waste is generated annually worldwide, amounting to a total of five per cent of the world's waste. However, only a fraction of the world's e-waste is currently being recycled. Asif and Naseer presented the idea for their hypothetical business, Green Gold, at the inaugural Business for Better competition recently, hosted by Western Union and Al Ansari Exchange. Their proposal won them third place in the competition bagging them each a Dh10,000 scholarship towards their tuition fees.
Their calculations revealed to the judges that in each PCB the four extracted precious metals mentioned above, found in virtually every PCB, could sell for a total of $24 (Dh88).
"The idea is that to acquire one kilo of PCB would cost you $0.70 and from each PCB you could extract $24 worth of metal," Asif said.
The basic metal extraction method from PCBs is to break apart the circuit boards, which are then dissolved in acid, whereby the metals and non-metals are subsequently separated.
Although this is not an original idea per se, as e-waste collection and metal extraction is a viable practice in some parts of the world, the pair's idea is to create a global industry out of it, based in the UAE.
"Metal extraction from e-waste is done everywhere and if you consider the UAE as a major shipping hub it's logical to create the industry here," Asif said.
"Not only will it reap financial benefits but it will also be good for the environment."
The only downside to the bright idea is the need for Dh20 million in start up capital.