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Unobtainium: Recycling Rare Earth Metals

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Smartphones and technology have become omnipresent in American society, causing few people to stop and think about the makeup of their components. Indeed, many parts in our devices are formed out of common substances such as plastic, nickel, and steel, but there are additional materials contained within that are not as easily obtainable. In fact, recent reports have indicated that we may only have a limited amount of these materials with no ability to create more.

Welcome to the world of rare earth elements.

Each chip in your modern phone can contain up to 60 different metals, a greater diversity that ever seen before in history. Featuring exotic elements such as yttrium (LCD displays), neodymium (audio production), and dysprosium (hard drives) only found in small amounts naturally, the supplies of these materials are threatened by the rapid rise of consumer culture. Additionally, as supplies dwindle countries such as China with natural supplies are taking steps to restrict the exporting of their native stock, leading to higher prices and shortages worldwide. In the face of artificial shortages and increased consumer use, more and more companies are turning to “urban mining” (otherwise known as e-cycling) to meet their expanding needs.

Americans throw away an estimated 126 million mobile devices a year containing these scarce and valuable materials, making recycling one of the few attractive options available. While each phone may only contain approximately .4 grams of rare earth elements, large amounts of recyclables can make it economically viable to extract at scale. Here at The Data Vault, we firmly believe in responsibly recycling used devices in order to provide materials for future use to industry. In 2014 we collected over 2,000 hard drives, as well as 1,500+ pounds of miscellaneous electronic waste for processing and recycling operations. In addition to securely destroying the the information contained on these devices, we ensured they arrived at a sustainable recycling operation; reducing the environmental impact overall and doing our part to help ensure the same opportunities exist for future generations. If you’re in need of secure shredding services that participate in electronic waste recycling, head over to our contact page for more information!

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(Pictured: Bismuth)

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