Whilst conventional recycling as we know it – converting waste materials into new materials – brings many environmental benefits, it is still severely limited when it comes to more complex products such as electronic devices. Our increasing and insatiable dependence on these devices, however, makes it even more urgent to find a solution to how we deal with them once they are no longer of use. Veena Sahajwalla is the director of the Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) at UNSW Australia. A materials scientists and engineer, she works towards a revolution in recycling science to unlock the valuable resources in complex and toxic waste found in landfills. With the aim of transforming the way we think about waste, she has researched and built micro-factories that take in e-waste and mine it for valuable resources, such as copper, tin, silver, and gold. In contrast to traditional mines, these work on the basis of fully automated processes that make the recovery of valuable materials more productive. Locating these ‘urban mines’ in towns and communities creates the potential for new streams of revenue and significantly more sustainable consumer electronics. At Falling Walls, Veena will talk about how bridging the gap between waste and manufacturing can turn an enormous environmental challenge into new opportunities.

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