One of our readers, Nils Johansson, a PhD student at Linköping University, Sweden, has a new co-authored article in the Journal of Cleaner Production on the technosphere (the part of the physical environment affected through building or modification by humans). They remind us that the  technosphere includes waste, discards, and the circulation of precious materials which produce a myriad of possibilities for recovery:

Johansson writes:

The aim of the article is to conceptualize the relocation process of metals from the lithosphere towards the technosphere (our mines are moving into the cities, a process Jane Jacobs described in her work). Furthermore, we try to bring order and categorize stocks of secondary metals according status (active/in-active), concentration and location. Recovery of these stocks, for example debris as well as informal recovery of metals is brought into discussion. Stealing (collecting) in-active metals from example abandoned houses should not be compared to stealing in-use copper cables.

Abstract

Stocks of finite resources in the technosphere continue to grow due to human activity, at the expense of decreasing in-ground deposits. Human activity, in other words, is changing the prerequisites for mineral extraction. For that reason, mining will probably have to adapt accordingly, with more emphasis on the exploitation of previously extracted minerals.

This study reviews the prevailing concepts for mining the technosphere as well as actual efforts to do so, the objectives for mining, the scale of the initiatives, and what makes them different from other reuse and recycling concepts. Prevailing concepts such as “urban mining,” however, are inadequate guides to the complexity of the technosphere, as these concepts are inconsistently defined and disorganized, often overlapping when it comes to which stocks they address. This review of these efforts and their potential is therefore organized around a new taxonomy based on the umbrella concept technospheric mining, defined as the extraction of technospheric stocks of minerals that have been excluded from ongoing anthropogenic material flows.

An analysis on the basis of this taxonomy shows that the prevailing mining initiatives are generally scattered and often driven by environmental factors, in which metal recovery is viewed as an additional source of revenue. However, development of technology, specialized actors and new business models and policy instruments, could lead to technospheric mining operations becoming a profit-driven business.