X. Zeng, T. Xiao, G. Xu et al., Comparing the costs and benefits of virgin and urban mining, Journal of Management Science and Engineering
Resource and environmental management are shaping our society and economy. Virgin mining is rapidly becoming unsustainable as primary resources are in increasingly short supply and energy consumption continues to increase. Urban mining through a circular economy has emerged as a promising option for securing copper and aluminum resources. However, the sustainability and viability of this circular economy industry are heavily dependent on its profitability.
This paper demonstrates the economic benefits of urban mining for anthropogenic minerals: e-waste, end-of-life vehicles, and waste wiring and cables. The material and cost flows associated with urban mining are deeply examined. Through life cycle cost and cost-benefit analysis, the cost of obtaining one ton of copper or aluminum is found to be, on average, 3,000 US$ or 1,660 US$, which is significantly lower than the cost of virgin mining. Moreover, in terms of the costs and benefits, copper may differ tremendously from aluminum depending on the type of anthropogenic mineral. Some additional regulations or policies enactment need to reinforce the urban mining and circular economy.