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Rare Raw Materials and Electronic Waste: On the Materiality and Recycling Problems of Digitality

feat. Mathias Schluep of the World Resources Forum | 6 September 2022

Digitalisation, like our economic model, is geared towards growth. But to what extent does the resource consumption of digitality grow when more and more things have to be available faster and faster? It quickly becomes clear that digitality is not “immaterial” at all when you think of the many raw materials we use for it. And the demand is growing all the time. In Europe and Germany, we hardly notice the luxurious hardware of the digital. Raw materials usually only become a public issue here when they are not available in the usual way. For us, what counts most is the increasingly powerful technology that we consume or take for granted as part of our environment. We are used to regularly buying new devices because the old ones can no longer keep up with the successor models. Supposedly “obsolete” items that could continue to be used or at least recycled then often disappear in a drawer or simply in the trash.

However, the resources for new smartphones and laptops – especially metals – are usually mined elsewhere in the world at great expense. Or poorly paid workers recover them from scrap devices, possibly using methods that cause harm to nature and people. Industrialised countries like Germany have only recently started to promote their own efficient recycling practices for e-waste. These projects are complex. They promise paths to a more ecologically sustainable digitality, but also react to geopolitical developments. And whether they achieve their goals – less dependence and more sustainability – depends not only on technical progress in the field of professional recycling.

Mathias Schluep is managing director of the World Resources Forum and an expert on environmental sustainability in the resource cycle. In this episode of Digitalgespräch, the environmental engineer explains where our use of resources for digital causes damage to the environment and people’s health, describes places and structures that are affected and how international projects and cooperatives are tackling these problems. It describes what opportunities for recycling exist and how well they are being implemented. With hosts Marlene Görger and Petra Gehring, Schluep discusses political motivations for a sustainable use of valuable resources and also what role – and power! – consumers have in this matter.

Episode 26 of Digitalgespräch, feat. Mathias Schluep of the World Resources Forum, 9 September 2022
Further informationen:

Link to the website of the World Resources Forum:

Link to an SRF-documentary about the former e-waste scrap heap in Agbogbloshie, Ghana, feat. Mathias Schluep:

all episodes of Digitalgespräch»

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The podcast is in German. At the moment there is no English version or transcript available.