Sunday, April 16, 2006

One Man's Trash

Lots of people have heard the saying that, "one man's trash is another man's treasure." I was thinking about just how true that is going to be in another decade, although I bet that most people don't realize it.

Right now, the world is experiencing some of the highest metals prices in the past two to three decades. Zinc, Copper, and other metals are definitely setting records, and PGM's (gold, silver, etc.) are showing huge signs of strength. Many of these different metals are used in tons of industrial processes and hi-tech equipment, so demand has been growing very quickly over the past decade. The problem is that even with the higher prices providing the funds for companies to increase exploration efforts, diminishing returns are being experienced. In many places, all the "good finds" have already been taken advantage of. The problem is not as significant as in the oil industry, because there will certainly be many more deposits discovered which can turn into viable mines. However, demand is increasing at a rate which suggests that the mining industry won't be able to keep up, and will fall further and further behind in the next decade or so. And of course, if oil prices go up significantly in the next year or two, metals prices will have to follow because it takes a lot of energy to mine and refine metals. The metals shortage probably isn't something that is going to turn into a crisis overnight like energy could, but it will certainly become a challenge ten to fifteen years from now.

And that's where garbage comes in. Just think of how many landfill sites there are across the country, just full of old cars, appliances, computers, batteries, and all sorts of other goodies containing dozens of different types of metals. I'm not suggesting that people should dig up the landfills and pick through the garbage looking for old items to recycle. I'm thinking that the entire contents of the landfill could go to a smelter and be processed the same way that ore is processed when it comes out of the ground. The concentrations of some metals in this garbage have got to be higher than concentrations in random truckloads of ore coming out of the ground directly. There would be some challenges, but I'm sure that most smelters or ore-processing facilities could be converted to be able to accept landfill detrius mixed in with conventionally mined feedstock.

Maybe I should start looking into trying to buy an old city landfill or two, although I bet they'd be way too expensive for me to afford. After all, who would want to sell a future gold mine?