Why don’t we mine the landfills?

Detta är en avhandling från Linköping : Linköping University Electronic Press

Sammanfattning: There are many reasons to mine landfills. For example, metals are increasingly shifting location from the Earth’s crust through human society into landfills. These new mines are located closer to the market, in contrast to traditional mines in the countryside where the metals are deep inside the crust requiring huge amounts of energy to be extracted. In addition, metals in the landfill pose a potential threat to humans, nature, and the environment. Despite this, landfills are not commonly mined. Therefore, the purpose of this thesis is to answer the question, Why don’t we mine the landfills? This question has been approached by analyzing different factors, such as the resource potential, institutional conditions, and to some degree technical methods considered important in order to realize a mining operation, above as well as below ground. In addition, the potential of landfills as mines will be contrasted with other metal stocks currently mined in order to understand what drives resource extraction from some metal stocks but not others. Information was mainly gathered through interviews, document studies, and literature reviews between 2010-2013.Metals are currently extracted from the Earth’s crust, in-use as they successively turn into waste, and tailing ponds. These stocks have greater mining potential than landfills. For example, there are more metals in the Earth’s crust as well as in-use. Single tailing ponds contain more metals than landfills. Furthermore, the waste in tailings is homogeneous and has a similar composition to ore, thus similar technology already in ownership to process the ore can be used to reprocess old tailings. Landfills, on the other hand, are usually heterogeneous and contain a mix of various wastes. At the same time, there are no methods to uncover the contents of a landfill and thereby identify particularly valuable ores, which makes it difficult to estimate the resource potential of single landfills. Metals in-use are also situated in a heterogeneous environment, but through state regulation on source separation are made more homogenous and predictable.However, there are homogeneous landfills with fairly predictable content. But these landfills are not mined either, which largely can be explained by institutional conditions. Researchers, officials, legislators, and policy makers have long manifested the idea of landfills as the end station for worthless rubbish, and if landfills have any value it is negative, as a dump. For this  reason, mining the landfill is a mismatch with the current strategy to isolate, cap, and close landfills and thereby becomes a challenging operation. At the same time as landfills are closed, mines are opened up with the support of the government. For example in 2010, the Swedish mining sector was subsidized with € 4 billion. This support is one of many factors that contribute to keeping the price of metals as a commodity down, which could make metal extraction from other stocks indirectly unfeasible. In addition, metals in landfills are not available on demand, although they lack a function, since landfills are owned by someone. The metals in the Earth's crust as well as in-use, on the other hand, are made available by exempting the ownership.If the demand for metals continues to increase, while being depleted in the Earth’s crust, additional sources for recycling need to be accessible. Compared to the risk associated with the schemes in outer space and the deep sea, the metals in the landfills seem less distant. However, there is no pressure today from policies to initiate something so awkward, unorthodox and “dirty” as extracting metals from landfills. The metal prices are too low and what is profitable and thus possible to mine from the Earth’s crust, i.e., reserves, is constantly redefined, with the help of governmental support through research funding of technological development and subsidization of the mining operation, which reduces costs.

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