Mechanisms and technologies to enable us to efficiently recycle resources are becoming increasingly important, in terms of securing stable supplies of metal resources and enabling the sustainable development of society as a whole.
In particular, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), such as televisions and computers, cellular phones contain large quantities of valuable metals such as precious metals and rare metals. These "urban mines"* are being thrust into the spotlight because they enable efficient extraction (recycling) of resources with minimal impact on the environment and local communities compared to natural mines.
In addition to the smelting and refining technologies the Mitsubishi Materials Group has built up over more than a century, for copper and other nonferrous metals, we have a wealth of expertise in recycling, and continue to actively work on recycling of E-Scrap (recyclable materials picked out from dismantled and crushed WEEE, mainly printed circuit boards).
Alongside our high-level operational expertise and the "Mitsubishi Process," a unique continuous copper smelting and converting process developed exclusively by Mitsubishi Materials, we have established a global collection network, and are constantly working to improve and reinforce processing capacity, as well as services such as our online booking system. Between the Naoshima Smelter & Refinery (Kagawa prefecture) and the Onahama Smelter & Refinery (Fukushima prefecture, Onahama Smelting & Refining Co. Ltd.), we are currently able to process E-Scrap on a world-leading scale of approximately 140,000 tons annually.
* "Urban mines": Electronics devices and other industrial products from which we can obtain valuable resources such as those extracted from natural mines.
The title and position are as of the publication date of this article.
We have created with use of civilization natural resources. Now we have reached a stage where we have to use resources in a sustainable manner. For sustainable use of resources, there are numerous challenges such as change of consumption mechanism, development of research and mining technologies etc. In particular, resource recycling have an important role. Output of gold, silver and copper already exceeds reserves under the ground. Reuse of metals from so-called urban mines is indispensable. Mitsubishi Materials is a world's leading company concerning use of urban mines, and its amount of E-Scrap from all over the world surpass the others.
This is also an important point with regard to tackling environmental issues in developing countries.
E-Scrap comes from used electronic devices, referred to using terms such as E-waste or WEEE. If it's disposed incorrectly, they can cause damage to the environment. This kind of events already became problems especially in Africa and Asia. Mitsubishi Materials' efforts to reuse E-Scrap also make a real difference to environmental issues in developing countries. The resource recycling technologies that Mitsubishi Materials have developed are also important, from the point of view of effectively reusing copper slag and other byproducts to manufacture cement, as part of a zero emissions approach. Despite the increasing emphasis on creating a recycling-oriented economy, there are still relatively few people who realize the importance of effectively reusing even byproducts from resource recycling to produce materials for infrastructure. I truly hope that Mitsubishi Materials will be an opinion leader working to create a recycling-oriented economy worldwide in the future.
In recent years, we have been disposing of large quantities of electronic devices that have outlived their useful lifespan as WEEE. While these devices still have potential value as urban mines, there are concerns that they could also cause environmental contamination from lead, mercury or other harmful substances if they are processed inappropriately. The European Union (EU) is taking these concerns very seriously, and in 2003 introduced a directive to limit volumes, and promote the reuse and recycling of WEEE.
Within the EU, a certification scheme is being put in place for companies throughout the recycling chain, to encourage them to handle WEEE in an appropriate manner. In fall 2016, we became the first company in Japan to obtain certification under the Standard on End-Processing of WEEE Fractions (E-Scrap) at the Naoshima Smelter & Refinery and Onahama Smelter & Refinery (Onahama Smelting & Refining Co. Ltd.).
We will continue to build on the technologies and expertise, so that we can contribute to the sustainable development of society as a whole through international resource recycling, as a leading partner in responsible E-Scrap recycling.
The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is running the "Create from Urban Mines! Everybody's Metal Project" to produce the medals used in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo from materials such as used mobile phones and compact home appliances. Hoping to leave a legacy contributing to the development of sustainable society, the committee is actively promoting the initiative in conjunction with NTT Docomo Inc., the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center, the Ministry of the Environment and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. As a business operator associated with a recycling business plan under Japan's Small Home Appliance Recycling Act, we support this project through the Japan Environmental Sanitation Center.