The term Urban Mining refers to the recovery of precious metals from the processing of and value recovery from materials that originate and have become disposable from the technical era. These include inter alia electronic waste, spent autocatalysts, used X rays and photographic film. 20 to 50 million metric tons of E waste are disposed of Worldwide every year. In the United States of America, E waste is still the fastest growing municipal waste stream. Americans dump cell phones containing over $60 million in gold and silver every year.
Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent of the electricity used by 3,657 homes in the USA every year. It takes 245 kgs of fossil fuel, 22 kgs of chemicals, and 1,5 tonnes of water to manufacture one computer and monitor. It is estimated that around 80 000 tons of electronic waste are generated in South Africa per year. For every million cell phones that are recycled, 16 tons of copper, 350 kg of silver, 195 kg of gold and 15 kg of palladium can be recovered, yet only 12,5% of all electronic waste is currently recycled.
Several initiatives have been introduced via the Urban Mining Business Unit which involve the recycling of suitable waste streams arising from E waste, X rays and spent autocatalysts. All of this has historically been exported for treatment and recycling companies in Europe, the Far East and the USA. The benefits of processing the listed waste streams in South Africa instead have been brought to the attention of relevant government institutions to support the growth of local businesses including waste collectors and to assist local job creation. Various other waste streams are also treated and recycled including mine residues, tailings and spent catalysts. Gauteng Refinery has long-standing associations with many recycling companies and mining houses.