Electronic waste gets a new lease of life in jewellery business

From printed circuit boards to USB cables and plugs, yesterday's electronic waste will now be part of tomorrow's necklaces, bracelets and earrings, putting skill and creativity at the service of the planet

Published: Mar 30, 2023 06:20:51 PM IST
Updated: Mar 30, 2023 06:25:45 PM IST

Electronic waste gets a new lease of life in jewellery businessElectronic waste, including printed circuit boards, is now being transformed into exceptional jewelry creations. Image: Shutterstock

More than 53 million tons of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019, of which only 17.4% was collected and recycled. Yet this waste contains very costly materials, such as gold, copper and silver. These metals are familiar to jewelers, who are determined not to pass up on the opportunity of giving them a new lease on life.

Reducing waste is now a major challenge facing all industries, from food to fashion, beauty and technology, as all these sectors and more seek to reduce their impact on the environment and preserve the planet. It's not just about giving priority to quality over quantity, in order to extend the life of products, but also about encouraging repair and reuse. On the consumer side, this has given rise to a boom in second-hand goods, and on the business side, it has led to growing use of upcycling, giving added value to items destined for the trash. As a result, waste can now be worth its weight in gold. Sometimes literally.

$57 billion worth of waste

Take e-waste. According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020 report, no less than 53.6 million tons of the stuff was generated worldwide in 2019, and this could even reach 74 million tons by 2030—a record level. And while there are now plenty of solutions available to recycle all kinds of electronic items, only a tiny fraction (less than a fifth) is currently collected and recycled. This represents a real disaster for health and for the environment, but also a considerable financial loss. Because the gold, copper, platinum and silver contained in much of this waste is valued at some $57 billion, and it most often ends up buried or burned.

In view of the forecasted shortage of certain metals, including copper and gold, this approach to e-waste disposal sounds nonsensical. And this has not escaped the attention of some players in the sectors concerned—including jewelry—who are highly interested in this waste, which today represents valuable raw materials. From printed circuit boards to USB cables and plugs, yesterday's electronic waste will now be part of tomorrow's necklaces, bracelets and earrings, putting skill and creativity at the service of the planet.

Also read: How Recykal is cleaning up the mess

From circuit board to pendant

Spanning art, design and jewelry creation, Oushaba has set itself the challenge of giving "new life to forgotten material," and more specifically to electronic waste. Founded in London in 2023, the brand makes its jewelry by hand in Italy from traditional materials, but also from smartphone circuit boards, USB cables, charging cables and even plugs. All of it is turned into fragments that are then reused in recycled silver, yellow gold and white gold, in combination with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other gemstones that the brand says come from responsible sources.

The very first collection, called "Connection Salvaged," is unlike any other. Standout pieces include a necklace with a circuit board as a pendant, set with diamonds and topped with an emerald, a ring adorned with diamonds and recycled cell phone charging cables, and a necklace consisting of a gold chain and a USB flash drive recycled as a pendant. The meticulous craftsmanship involved elevates waste to the status of art. "Seeing opportunity where others see waste" is core to the brand's philosophy, explain the trio behind the initiative.

Also read: News by Numbers: India's mountain of e-waste

A growing trend

While the Oushaba brand has placed circularity at the heart of its DNA, it is not the first to have transformed electronic waste into jewelry items. Back in 2018, hardware manufacturer Dell partnered with the Bayou with Love workshop to present a collection of jewelry made from gold collected from some of its obsolete computer components. It was a way to raise consumer awareness of e-waste recycling, while showing that this kind of creative approach can be used to prevent the waste of precious materials.

Initiatives have been multiplying in the field in recent years. The jewelry house Courbet and Lylie Jewellery, for example, use recycled gold from all kinds of electronic components. This concept is still in its infancy, but it is expected to grow rapidly in the jewelry industry, not only to cope with the shortage of certain precious materials, but also to address the mountains of electronic waste that are piling up around the world.

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