urban mining robotics arm

The critical role of AI and robotics in the shift toward urban mining

Christen Martines | September 6, 2023

Tomaso Manca, RecyclingProductNews.com, August 14, 2023

Technology holds the key to transforming e-waste into a valuable resource

Earlier this year, the European Commission released the Critical Raw Materials Act which outlines proposed regulations to ensure a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials (CRM). These materials are essential for the economy, but are largely reliant on imports from foreign countries. This act reflects a clear direction in developed countries toward urban mining – the extraction of valuable metals and resources directly from electronic waste through recycling processes – as a substitute for traditional mining.

The challenges and risks of urban mining

While this transition is both inevitable and desirable, it comes with challenges and risks that must not be underestimated. Optimizing recycling processes and recovering reusable materials in an economically sustainable manner is crucial, as is the implementation of new legislation. However, there is also a risk of social issues arising or worsening.

For instance, the Agbogbloshie landfill in Accra, Ghana, which theoretically ceased operations in 2021, employed impoverished individuals – often children – who worked amidst mountains of electronic waste that was shipped to Ghana from more developed nations under the false label of “second-hand devices.” This had devastating consequences for their safety and health.

Robotics and artificial intelligence are invaluable tools to facilitate compliance with regulations, ensure legality, achieve economic sustainability, and promote best practices in the recycling and recovery of electronic waste. These cutting-edge technologies offer concrete solutions to address the challenges faced by the industry. Adapting and reinventing existing automation technologies for effective waste treatment processes poses a unique challenge.

Unlike the standardized processes used in manufacturing millions of identical objects, the recycling industry lacks standardization due to the diverse range of electronic devices. Each manufacturer designs and develops devices uniquely, making universal dismantling processes nearly impossible.

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