My good buddy @tmsophie has been doing some extraordinary work on her “Great Recovery” project for the RSA and Technology Strategy Board in the UK. Focused on designing out waste and improving the recoverability of materials, the results from the first phase of the project have now been published in a short but hard-hitting report. Her research highlights some real humdingers about e-waste and how poorly mobile phones in particular are designed for recovery of their materials, which in many cases are rare minerals and precious metals.

Sophie’s report sheds a much needed spotlight on the inherent inefficiency of a product design system that uses valuable raw materials in products with a one or two year lifespan as if they were infinite. The report states: “Like many developed countries, the UK economy is highly dependent on several finite materials, and resource security is a growing concern. Nearly a third of profit warnings issued by FTSE 350 companies in 2011 were attributed to rising resource prices.”

There are many eye-opening facts about waste from consumer products, but the most startling one for me was the following:

“Every mobile phone is made from approximately 40 different elements, including copper in the wiring, indium in the touchscreen and gold in the circuit boards. It is estimated there is five times more gold in a tonne of electronic waste than there is in a tonne of mined ore from a gold mine.”

And this video proves that quote to be true – it shows materials scientist and jeweller Maria Hanson from the Materials and Engineering Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University creatively demonstrating just how many irretrievable precious metals have gone in to every iPhone.

It got me thinking about my back bedroom drawers with ever growing piles of e-waste and how I could be a part of changing this system… hmmm.

So, while I try to find an answer to my e-waste crisis, why not take a look at Sophie’s work on http://www.greatrecovery.org.uk or check out the youtube channel. Sophie will also be talking about the Great Recovery project at next weekend’s 100% Design exhibition at Earls Court in London (check it out at http://www.100percentdesign.co.uk/) and I would strongly recommend a visit if you are in town on the 18-20th September.

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