Lanthanum Is Not A Valuable Metal

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The German Greens have a sensible enough idea here. If you want things to be returned for processing then charge a deposit on them. You can then leave it to poor teenagers – or Bob a Job Week – to make sure all things get returned.

However, this is stupid:

Environmental groups say that throwing away electronics not only leads toxic chemicals to seep into the water table but also deprives the industry of valuable rare earth metals such as lanthanum and palladium.

Palladium’s not a rare earth. And a quick back of the envelope tells me that the value in a phone is perhaps 80 cents euro. What’s the cost of getting the phone back to the recycling plant? More of less than that?

It’s the lanthanum part that really grates. There’s no shortage of supply at all. None out there in the wild and not even any in the industry. It’s near always sold for less than the cost of its production in fact. That’s just how the rare earths world rolls. Cerium and lanthanum are vastly more common in a rare earth concentrate than any of the others. But we want the others for their very cute properties, terbium for light bulbs, lutetium for MRIs, neodymium for magnets and so on. But the way the chemistry works is that we’ve got to take the lanthanum and cerium out first in order to get to those other lovelies.

So, as long as we’re making rare earth magnets – say – in any volume we’re going to have lots of lanthanum. Which is why the stuff costs $5 a kilo for the oxide. And it is the oxide we use in phones, the lens on the camera is made of a silicon and lanthanum oxide mix.

Oh, and we might be using tens of grammes in each lens.

Recycling to save “valuable” lanthanum is simply idiocy.

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Spike
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Spike

Moreover, these prices will fluctuate. So even recycling that’s currently profitable, when used to justify MANDATORY recycling, means that it will continue even after it becomes unprofitable, and will employ sufficient bureaucrats to warn us of the Environmental Catastrophe that will ensue if we, well, cease to employ them.

Pcar
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Pcar

The German Greens have a sensible enough idea here. If you want things to be returned for processing then charge a deposit on them

Rather simplistic assertion which implies support for Gov’t intervention.

How it should be: if seller wants it back after use, put a deposit on it which is no higher overall than the cost of buying a new replacement

Recycling anything to save “valuable” whatever is simply idiocy, unless private sector can make a subsidy/surcharge/tax-incentive free profit

Metal has been recycled for profit since long before recycling mania infected gullible Pols & peeps.

As with most things, Gov’t should not meddle

john77
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john77

@ Pcar
Whether we should want the things to be returned is a separate question from “how do we get things to be returned”. I think Tim has demonstrated that the first is more important in his article.
It is not always the case that it isn’t worth recycling unless the private sector can make an unsubsidised profit thereby – there is something that Tim calls “externals” – the cost to the wider community of waste disposal and/or pollution.

Spike
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Spike

I am a student of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she majored in “economics” at UMass-Boston, and the way she describes “externalities,” it is the dollar amount I assign to the “cost” of you not doing things the way I tell you to. You can tally it up; you cannot defend it.

john77
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john77

That may be the way that She describes them. Normal people, including those who did economics at the better university in Boston (which is not as good as my own, but a *lot* better than UMass-Boston), describe them as the *net* cost to the community of economic actions. Litter-picking has a negative externality.

Spike
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Spike

I am not quibbling over gross cost versus net cost but emphasizing the essential judgementalism of the concept. Litter-picking ONLY has a negative externality because you (and I) value litter-free parkland. But an externality assigned to single-use plastic bags in US supermarkets is not economics, partly because these will not find their way into the oceans (nor generally onto the parkland). Externality is, most of the time, a way to nag with dollar amounts.

john77
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john77

The litter-picking organised by my church was along the streets of our town: the parkland was much less polluted because most people treat it better. I have no knowledge about the fate of single-use plastic bags in the USA but in the UK a lot of single-use plastic bags end up in land-fill which has a cost. Plastic in the ocean is largely a Chinese problem (90% of ocean plastic comes from ten rivers, six of which through wholly or largely through China).
The concept is not judgemental – merely her abuse of the term.

Spike
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Spike

The concept is quite judgemental. It is exactly your judgement that litter should not be along the streets and so someone needs to pay the cost (externality) to move it to the landfill, and then to correctly manage the landfill. (Whether your judgement is right or wrong is not the issue.) Someone could claim that we need to restore the atmosphere to some “correct” PPM of carbon dioxide, so the cost they impose on your activities to enforce that judgement they would call an “externality” of your improper behavior.

john77
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john77

If someone slips on a banana skin and sues the local authority for £50k damages (it would be $100million in California) that is a cost in reality not just AOC’s judgement.

Pcar
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Pcar

@john77

Nitpicking again

Litter externality is scrotes no longer being told by parents, family, friends, schools to not litter.

Too many have been brainwashed to believe they have no responsibilities and state will fix everything -aka socialism

Socialism/Closed Shop “Not my job to put it in bin, it’s litter picker’s job”

@Spike +1s

john77
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john77

I was just using an easy example that PROVED that externalities exist. Other externalities are the health impact of smog, whether from traffic in Los Angeles, from coal fires in London last century, or from coal-fired power stations *and* traffic in Beijing. Neither AOC nor yourself can can change that by inventing your own definitions.

Spike
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Spike

Emphysema probably needs treatment; I blew my nose after a day shopping in downtown Chihuahua and it came out black. That was health impact that didn’t need treatment. I am not claiming that any of the examples on this page are wrong; only that the process is inherently judgemental. Asserting the “externality” that my conduct requires you to spend money (that should rightfully be charged to me instead) is elastic, limited only by rhetoric, and an overture to excuse-making.

john77
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john77

Anyone can stretch any assertion – it doesn’t make it true. Just because AOC likes to use elastic to measure things is no excuse for throwing away your ruler. The existence of an externality is not affected by politicians’ rhetoric whether Trump is disregarding pollution generated by burning coal or AOC is inventing billions of alleged costs from eating burgers – it is merely misreprented or disguised.

Pcar
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Pcar

@john77

Externalities

Local: deal with it locally
Smog in London, don’t punish all UK/World – no smog in high windy area here

Global: ignore

Furthermore, touted/invented Externalities have become yet another way to justify more control & tax

Man is born to die

john77
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john77

I’ll agree to that.
As a matter of fact in the 1950s the City of London sponsored an Act of Parliament to ban burning coal in the City which reduced smog.

Spike
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Spike

@john77: Re: “Anyone can stretch any assertion” – So politicians “disregard” externalities, and “invent” them too, but externalities themselves harbor no judgementalism? And even the amount of the externality is objective? Sheesh!

@Pcar: “Externalities have become yet another way to justify more control & tax” Hear hear! Outside Econ 101, that is exactly what they are!

john77
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john77

If you think that smog particles are capable of irrational thought then I really cannot help you. Anthopomorphism merely attributes the capability of rational thought to inanimate objects.

Daedalus
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Daedalus

Whats happening to the price of Palladium though? It seems to be going up quite steeply at the moment.