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.