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Marine E-Waste: Gold Rush or Shipwreck?

Kevin Green
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Electronics waste has been described as the next gold rush, so enormous is the potential. But recycling is still a big challenge lying ahead for the marine industry.

The marine industry is just one of many that might benefit from a new way of doing business—creating a circular life cycle for products rather than the current linear use-and-discard.

The term “gold rush” is literal because this precious metal constitutes an estimated 10% of the content of electronics products. This means that efficiently recycling gold, as well as rarer metals such as europium (found in color screens), lanthanum (batteries) and the mercury commonly found in displays, could convert costs to benefits.

In addition, environmental groups and other stakeholders are lobbying for a material passport for every product to encourage reuse. It’s estimated that only about a third of the European Union electronics waste is legitimately recycled, and most of it is dumped on third world countries.

The Marine Challenge

Yet industries such as car manufacturing have been working on this for some time. Renault and Tesla in particular have been pioneers in the field. The latter builds end-of-life costs into its electric vehicles to cover the outlay of buying them back from the final owner. They are also built with disassembly in mind.

Recycling is a big challenge lying ahead for the marine industry, according to Steven Beckers, industrial architect and president of the Implementation Centre for Circular Economy in Brussels.

Electronics waste (Courtesy of Harmony Foundation)
Electronics waste (Courtesy of Harmony Foundation)

Marine electronics (Courtesy of Marlin)

A famous wreck, the United Malika in Mauritania (Courtesy of Christophandre)

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