Turn your used electronics into gold the BlueOak Way

So much e-waste! And it will only increase in the next few years

So much e-waste! And it will only increase in the next few years

New versions of iPhones, Galaxys, Nexuses, Tablets are rolled out every year. People keep  buying them as they roll out, just because they have to own the phone with that small new feature included. Who am I to judge when I am in the same bandwagon. With this rampant consumerism of electronics, e-waste recycling is the need of the hour. The numbers (source: UN Report) speak for themselves – About 50 million tons of electronic waste were generated worldwide in 2012 and is expected to grow to 65.4 million tons by 2017. Putting these numbers in perspective that’s about 200 Empire State Buildings or 11 Great Pyramids of Giza!!

The Problem

Ever wondered what happens to all this e-waste? Yes, most of it does get recycled. But those that can’t be reused are are actually shipped to landfills where they are incinerated. Harmful chemicals from this waste leach into the environment and eventually find their way into our bloodstreams. A study conducted in Guiyu, China – well known for being the dumping ground for e-waste, has shown alarmingly high levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams.

I might have convinced you about the recycling your e-waste, but sometimes, no amount of sick kids and ever increasing amounts of e-waste is enough to convince those big corporations to bring a change in its behavior. That is where Prav Bradoo and Blueoak, the company she co-founded with Bryce Goodman comes in. By promising gold and silver in return, this California based start-up hopes that everyone to see e-waste as a source of revenue. If this does not lure big corporations  to recycling their e-waste, nothing will.

What Sorcery is this?

This isn’t sorcery. And no, they aren’t leprechauns who have a pot of gold stashed away at the end of a rainbow. Its pure science. Not many of us know that circuit boards are rich in valuable metals like gold, silver and copper. One ton of circuit boards has between 40 to 800 times gold in it than the same amount of mined gold ore. We spend a fortune to mine the gold, corporations spend even more to buy them and mold them on the boards. After all of this it eventually goes back into the ground – back where it came from. Blueoak, with its above the ground recovery system, means to mine the gold and silver from these circuit boards.

The Pot of Gold

A ton of circuit boards has 40-800 times gold than the same amount of mined gold ore

A ton of circuit boards has 40-800 times gold than the same amount of mined gold ore

In places like Europe, Asia and Canada where the recycling industry is already booming, large scale smelters that convert e-scrap to precious metals are already present. But these smelters only deal with mass quantities. Blueoak wants to close the gap in this system by setting an urban e-waste refining facility in Osceola, Arkansas for the first time in the USA. The refinery, set to be completed next year is built to process 15 million pounds of scrap per year.

How it works – the model

Blueoak will partner with collectors who gather e-scrap from corporations and charges them an upfront processing fee. After the precious metals are extracted and sold from e-waste, it returns a majority of the profits to collectors.  This model has attracted investor interest, particularly from the Arkansas Teachers’ Retirement Fund and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, from where it raised $35 million to build the Osceola facility.

By building a refinery for the first time, Blueoak is on the verge of launching a new industry in the United States. Lets hope that it succeeds in encouraging everyone to think twice about tossing their used electronics out with the trash.


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