Waste Mining: The New Boom

The concept of a circular metabolism for our urban society is a fundamental key to creating a vision for a sustainable future. Rather than continuing with the linear model of resource use that western society has historically followed, we can create a model that values far more highly the materials we use and the resources required to produce them. This in turn reduces the need for new inputs, by reusing and recycling what we’ve already produced and which is freely available as waste.

Circular Vs. Linear Metabolism (http://www.intechopen.com/books/climate-change-research-and-technology-for-adaptation-and-mitigation/what-is-green-urbanism-holistic-principles-to-transform-cities-for-sustainability)

This concept of waste mining was championed by Jane Jacobs, who believed that economies of scale particularly within cities allowed for significant environmental and economic potential. She created the “metaphor of cities being the ‘urban mines’ of the future…Rather than extracting resources from finite natural resources she envisages a future where we will mine urban waste for many of the raw materials we need” (Rudlin & Falk 1999, 164).

Rudlin and Falk’s book ‘Building the 21st Century Home: The Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood’¬†identifies how this is already happening in so many ways, from the ubiquitous recycling of paper, glass and aluminium to Op-Shops, second hand clothing and furniture stores, and scrap yards. Further, old newspaper is used for home insulation and power station ash for concrete manufacture. All of these are key examples of waste mining, and as is highlighted, these activities are not driven by “environmental consciousness but by commercial principles”(Rudlin & Falk 1999, 164). The whole idea is that you create employment and economic activity that benefits the local community and is sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Personal electronic waste. Photo: S. Powell

All of this theory was reflected in my own needs this week. I had a box load of electronic ‘waste’ in the cupboard that was doing nothing but collect dust. An old laptop, DVD players, camera’s, an mp3, cables etc, that either don’t work or are now surplus to requirements. What to do with them? Determined not to see them go into landfill, I started to look for a local solution. My first stop was Officeworks, but their interest goes only so far as recycling computers and laptops, and whilst they recommended I call other larger stores who may be more accommodating the story was the same – nobody wanted to take everything that I had. Being inherently lazy I was looking for a one stop solution, and as chance would have it, I found it. The first hint was a page on Moreland Councils website about a trial program for electrical appliance reuse and repair. It mentioned a donation bin was available at the Moreland Civic Centre, so I whipped down on my bike for a reconnoissance mission. Unfortunately the bin also wouldn’t take all that I had (so many rules) but finally I had narrowed down my options – I could deliver my box load of electrical goodies to the good people at Bright Sparks Australia, only a hop-skip and a jump away in Hadfield.

Bright Sparks Australia encapsulate perfectly this concept of a circular metabolism, of creating economic prosperity and environmental good by mining the waste we produce in truckloads and keeping it out of landfill. As a social enterprise and registered charity, they focus on reuse and repair, but responsibly recycle anything beyond help. For the time being they are funded through to March 2016, but by using their services you support the project and hopefully its longterm existence within our local area. How much storage space is taken up in your home by electronics you don’t need or use? Lets give them a new life.

Published by

Sean Powell

Sustainability Practitioner

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