Prior to 2009, there was no permit or authorization system for home appliances waste such as small-sized electronics, office devices and cell phones. To address the problem, the Seoul Metropolitan Government adopted the Urban Mining Project, under which rare metals are extracted from discarded electronics to recycle. The project also creates jobs for the socially disadvantaged populations in the city.
Seoul, First City to Pay Attention to Urban Mining
What is Urban Mining?
The concept of Urban Mining was first introduced in Japan in the 1980’s. The words literally mean mining resources in the middle of a city. This is a new industry of recovering and recycling such rare metals as gold and silver contained in personal computers, laptops, cell phones, and various home appliances. Urban Mining is at minimum 4 times and maximum 80 times more efficient than conventional gold mining, making a fast-rising alternative to securing rare metals all around the world.
Seoul’s Urban Mining Project
For the first time in Korea, Seoul drafted a plan for the Urban Mining project in March 18th, 2009. The objectives of this project was to improve the metal resource recovery rate by extracting and recycle metal resources contained in discarded appliances that were being disposed improperly and to create jobs for socially disadvantaged people. According to the plan, special facilities that process discarded electronics were established to recover and recycle waste metals, contributing to enhancement of Korea’s national resource productivity. Starting 2010, Seoul started to recover waste metals from small home appliances collected from administrative districts and dead mobile phones provided by students. Profit from processing discarded mobile phones of the students goes back to them in the form of scholarship given by Seoul Scholarship Foundation. Ever since 2010 when the project started to expand, disused office devices such as computers and monitors in the offices of city government, Seoul-affiliated organizations, and administrative districts were all collected and recycled, raising the rate of metal resource recovery.
Birth of SR Center (Seoul Resource Center), the Backbone of Electronic Product Recycling
Since the beginning of the Urban Mining Project in 2009, Seoul looked for ways to more effectively extract rare metals from disposed electronic goods and mobile phones, and utilize as resources. As a result, a special facility specifically responsible for urban mining process was founded.
A Social Enterprise Founded for the Project
In September 2009, Seoul started building the Resource Recirculation Center in order to continuously and consistently collect and recycle discarded home appliances and mobile phones. The city government, at the same time, put up a public bidding to select a private body that can utilize its experiences and know-how in operating the center.
Considering the experience in establishing and operating a social enterprise in recycling sector, the number of member appliance producers, and the expertise in energy-related projects, Eco City Seoul, Inc., a consortium of 3 organizations and businesses was commissioned to take over the Resource Recirculation Center.
The name of the center was changed to SR Center (Seoul Resource Center) when it began its operation in December 2009. Eco City Seoul, Inc. became a social enterprise in 2010, employing socially vulnerable people and carrying out the Urban Mining project.
Recycling Resource and Creating Employment
At SR Center, at its 810㎡ site, diverse equipment sort, disassemble, and gather the collected products. The center employs about 60 socially marginalized people like those with disability. And it processes approximately 2,250 tons of discarded home electronics and mobile phones every year. In addition, in conjunction with a self-support organization, the center newly launched a special project group for small-size home appliances through which it created new jobs, and it also provides guided-tour of the facility.
SR Center, Good Model for Resource Recirculating & Recycling Project
An Exemplary Case for Resource Recycling
For 5 years since its establishment, SR Center recycled approximately 10,000 tons of electric and electronic products and 1.69 million cell phones. It gave 346 guided tours to 6,014 citizens and students to raise awareness about resource recirculation.
Projects conducted by SR Center were widely introduced by various media outlets home and abroad as an exemplary case. The Center became an important publicity channel that introduces Korea’s resource recirculation practice to many government and non-government personnel from countries like Japan and China. Furthermore, other cities such as Ulsan and Busan used SR Center’s project model as a reference. And as a result, Ulsan Resource Center was founded in Ulsan, and Busan plans to establish the BR Center in 2015. One can expect that more resource recirculation facilities will be built in other cities taking SR Center as a model to follow.
Possibility of Exporting SR Center Model
SR Center manually disassembles products before sorting the parts, which means less investment in equipment and more employment, comparing to using machines to break down the product. Such system is easily applicable to less-developed countries that have relatively less budget for investment and low labor cost, and desperately need to create jobs. If the disposal and collection system of Seoul can be customized to the country’s needs, less-developed countries will be able to actively adopt SR Center model. The city government and SR Center plan to actively disseminate SR Center’s model to make it an exporting case of good administrative practice. Thanks to this, Seoul expects to see its international prestige rise as a model city for advanced recycling.