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Article

Where Do Our Resources Go? Indium, Neodymium, and Gold Flows Connected to the Use of Electronic Equipment in Switzerland

1
Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Technology and Society Laboratory, Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, CH-9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland
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Department of Informatics, University of Zürich, Binzmühlestrasse 14, CH-8050 Zürich, Switzerland
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World Resources Forum (WRF), Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, CH-9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland
4
Clausthal University of Technology, Chair of Environmental and Energy Engineering, Leibnizstraße 28, D-38678 Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2018, 10(8), 2658; https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082658
Received: 16 May 2018 / Revised: 23 July 2018 / Accepted: 25 July 2018 / Published: 28 July 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) for Sustainability)
The increased use of digital information and communications technologies (ICT) is giving rise to fast-growing waste streams that contain important material resources. In contrast to bulk materials and precious metals, the recovery of most critical metals has not yet been commercially established, and they are thus lost within the recycling process. In this article, we used dynamic material flow analysis to explore the stocks and flows of indium, neodymium, and gold incorporated in end-user devices in Switzerland. Our analysis covered the use, collection, recycling, and disposal phases. This enabled us to track the three metals from their entry into Switzerland as components of new devices until their recovery, disposal in landfills, or dissipation to the environment. Using statistical entropy analysis (SEA), we further analyzed the dilution or concentration of the metals during their route through the current system. The data uncertainty was addressed employing a probabilistic approach. The largest quantities of all three metals are found in the devices currently in use. The second-largest stocks are slags disposed in landfills for indium, slags used for construction for neodymium, and the output of metal recovery processes for gold. The SEA illustrates how the current collection and recycling system successfully concentrates all three metals. While 70% of gold leaving the use phase is recovered, indium and neodymium are dissipated to slags after smelting and incineration processes due to the lack of economic incentives and lacking recovery processes on a commercial scale. View Full-Text
Keywords: dynamic material flow analysis; statistical entropy analysis; critical metals; indium; neodymium; gold; Switzerland dynamic material flow analysis; statistical entropy analysis; critical metals; indium; neodymium; gold; Switzerland
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MDPI and ACS Style

Thiébaud, E.; Hilty, L.M.; Schluep, M.; Böni, H.W.; Faulstich, M. Where Do Our Resources Go? Indium, Neodymium, and Gold Flows Connected to the Use of Electronic Equipment in Switzerland. Sustainability 2018, 10, 2658. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082658

AMA Style

Thiébaud E, Hilty LM, Schluep M, Böni HW, Faulstich M. Where Do Our Resources Go? Indium, Neodymium, and Gold Flows Connected to the Use of Electronic Equipment in Switzerland. Sustainability. 2018; 10(8):2658. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082658

Chicago/Turabian Style

Thiébaud, Esther, Lorenz M. Hilty, Mathias Schluep, Heinz W. Böni, and Martin Faulstich. 2018. "Where Do Our Resources Go? Indium, Neodymium, and Gold Flows Connected to the Use of Electronic Equipment in Switzerland" Sustainability 10, no. 8: 2658. https://doi.org/10.3390/su10082658

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