This company recycles gold from electronic waste

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Your old laptop could be reborn as a piece of jewellery or a new device.
  • New Zealand startup Mint Innovation uses microbes and low cost chemicals to recover precious metals from e-waste.
  • The vision is to have a biorefinery in every major city.
  • The company is one of 17 in The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021.
image of the Mint Innovation team
The Mint Innovation team. Image: Mint Innovation

Gadgets that we throw away, like cell phones and computers, are a rich source of precious metals.

A record 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. The raw materials in this e-waste were worth around $57 billion – with iron, copper, and gold contributing most to this value. But only a sixth of that value ($10 billion) is recovered in an environmentally sound way.

What if more of this precious waste could be sustainably salvaged and recycled back into the economy?

This is the vision of New Zealand start-up Mint Innovation, which has developed a low-cost, biotech process for recovering valuable metals from e-waste.

a diagram explaining how urban mining enables a full circular economy in precious metals, supplementing traditional scrap recycling
Mint Innovation uses biorefineries to salvage precious metals from scrap electronics. Image: Mint Innovation

“Imagine the gold in your old laptop might end up as a ring on a person’s finger – or being reused in new devices,” says Mint Innovation chief executive Will Barker.

Using naturally sourced microbes and inexpensive chemicals, the company recovers precious metals from crushed and powdered electronic waste.

A mobile phone, for example, is made up of 15% copper and other compounds, 10% other metals and 3% iron, according to the World Economic Forum’s report, A New Circular Vision for Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot.

a diagram to show how e-waste breaks down
How e-waste breaks down. Image: A New Circular Vision for Electronics

Urban mining

Mint’s vision is to have a biorefinery in every major city in the world. It has just raised NZ$20 million ($14 million) to help build its first two biorefineries in Sydney, Australia and North West England. The Sydney plant will be able to process up to 3,500 tonnes of electronic waste a year.

“Ideally those metals will be sold back to local businesses, such as jewellers and manufacturers, creating a truly circular economy,” Barker says.

Mint Innovation is one of 17 companies selected from more than 200 entrants to be part of The Circulars Accelerator Cohort 2021. The six-month programme helps circular innovators scale their solutions by connecting them to industry leaders and circular experts for tailored support and mentorship.

The accelerator is a collaboration with UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s innovation crowdsourcing platform, and is led by professional services company Accenture in partnership with Anglo American, Ecolab, and Schneider Electric.

The partners say the circular economy presents a unique market opportunity worth upwards of $4.5 trillion by 2030.

a diagram showing the management of e-waste in 2019 and how much of it was recycled
Better collection and recovery of electronic waste is needed. Image: Global E-waste Monitor 2020

Circular solutions

By 2020, the number of devices connected to the internet was forecast to have been between 25 to 50 billion, according to the Forum’s A New Circular Vision for Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot, published in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digital uptake.

It also estimated that, by 2040, carbon emissions from the production and use of electronics, including devices like PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones and tablets (and their production) will reach 14% of total emissions. sustainability

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the circular economy?

The World Economic Forum has created a series of initiatives to promote circularity.

1. Scale360° Playbook was designed to build lasting ecosystems for the circular economy and help solutions scale.

Its unique hub-based approach – launched this September – is designed to prioritize circular innovation while fostering communities that allow innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions. Emerging innovators from around the world can connect and work together ideas and solutions through the UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform.

Discover how the Scale360° Playbook can drive circular innovation in your community.

Connect to Learn More →

2. A new Circular Cars Initiative (CCI) embodies an ambition for a more circular automotive industry. It represents a coalition of more than 60 automakers, suppliers, research institutions, NGOs and international organizations committed to realizing this near-term ambition.

CCI has recently released a new series of circularity “roadmaps”, developed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), McKinsey & Co. and Accenture Strategy. These reports explain the specifics of this new circular transition.

Connect to Learn More

3. The World Economic Forum’s Accelerating Digital Traceability for Sustainable Production initiative brings together manufacturers, suppliers, consumers and regulators to jointly establish solutions and provide a supporting ecosystem to increase supply chain visibility and accelerate sustainability and circularity across manufacturing and production sectors.

Connect to Learn More →

“Globally, society only deals with 20% of e-waste appropriately and there is little data on what happens to the rest, which for the most part ends up in landfill, or is disposed of by informal workers in poor conditions,” the Forum says.

Changes in technology such as cloud computing and the internet of things – the world of connected devices – could hold the potential to “dematerialize” the electronics industry, the report finds.

Better product tracking and buy-back or return systems could lead to global circular value chains. Material efficiency, recycling infrastructure and increasing the use and quality of recycled materials are key.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Beating cancer: MEPs react to the EU Plan for joint action

4 ways to build resilience to digital risks in the COVID-19 era

Colombia’s former president says COVID-19 shows the importance of listening to indigenous peoples on how we treat the planet

Internet milestone reached, as more than 50 per cent go online: UN telecoms agency

The EU Parliament slams Commission on economic governance

Ramp up nuclear power to beat climate change, says UN nuclear chief

The role of the cyber leader in building secure and resilient digital ecosystems

3 ways to keep ourselves cool more sustainably

Mirrored classroom display highlights scale of massive education crisis

Four lessons from Africa on building effective business ecosystems

Climate change will never be combatted by EU alone while some G20 countries keep procrastinating

Ocean life faces ‘onslaught of threats’ from human activity, but tools exist to save it

EU economy: Between recession and indiscernible growth

General Elections in Spain: Twitter organises the first digital debate to empower young people.

COVID-19 has laid bare the cracks in long-term care. Here’s how to fix them

From Policy to Reality: Discrepancies in Universal Health Care Systems across the European Union

As rural communities age, their public transport is shrinking. It’s time to fix this

Return of Kuwaiti property by Iraq, signals hope of ‘full normalization’ between nations: UN Chief

Busting the myths about coronavirus

This Indian school accepts plastic waste instead of fees

UNICEF backpacks used as a haunting symbol to call for greater protection of children living in conflict

How tiny countries top social and economic league tables (and win at football, too)

Banking Union: Non-performing loans in the EU continue to decline

Robots and chatbots can help alleviate the mental health epidemic

How we can embrace the electrical vehicle transition by adopting smart charging

Is mental health really ‘health’?

The ethics of the Medical Technology Civilisation era

The US + Britain trivialize mainland Europe, NATO and the EU

3 ways to nurture collaboration between universities and industry

The EU wants to create 10 million smart lampposts

Switzerland to introduce strict restrictions on executive pay

Far more needed to ‘confront the world’s climate emergency’, UN chief tells ASEAN Summit

Europe’s far-right launches attacks on neighboring nations

Syria: Urgent, concrete actions needed, to protect children too young to ‘make sense of this senseless war’

COVID-19 increased the use of AI. Here’s why it’s here to stay

The European Union and Central Asia: New opportunities for a stronger partnership

IMF launches a new offensive against Germany

Integrating migrants and refugees into the labour market: Commission and social and economic partners relaunch cooperation

Europe united in not supporting a US attack on Syria

What is the biggest benefit technology will have on ageing and longevity?

Economic recovery won’t tackle youth unemployment problem

How curiosity and globalization are driving a new approach to travel

At G20 Summit OECD’s Gurría says collective action vital to tackle global challenges

MWC 2016 Live: Industrial world prepares to reap digital benefits

Mergers: Commission opens in-depth investigation into proposed acquisition of Metallo by Aurubis

Why small farms are key to the future of food – and how we can support them

Nicaragua ‘crisis’ still cause for concern amid murder, torture allegations: Bachelet

One life for another

Access and hesitancy as major challenges surrounding covid-19 vaccination campaigns

Zero carbon by 2050 is possible. Here is what we need to do

The mother of all fights about inflation, growth and banks

Three UN workers killed following Benghazi car bomb attack, as Security Council meets in emergency session, honours their ‘ultimate sacrifice’

Coronavirus: Commission proposes to provide €81.4 billion in financial support for 15 Member States under SURE

EU humanitarian budget for 2020 to help people in over 80 countries

UN launches drive to highlight environmental cost of staying fashionable

“We need to accelerate our negotiation on the China-EU Investment Treaty”, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang highlights from the 21st EU-China summit in Brussels

COVID-19: How multilateral development banks can lead through a crisis

New UN book club helps children deal with global issues

Here’s how to find a job you really love

WHO launches COVID-19 health alert service with Facebook and WhatsApp – Updates from Friday’s WHO briefing

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s