The Value of Resources

The electronics industry is a constantly and rapidly evolving industry, and even the material composition within the same category of appliances is continuously evolving with new technology, customer preferences, legislative changes, and nowadays, health and environmental concerns. This paper follows the changes in the material composition and the relative value of those materials for seven categories of electronic appliances: refrigerators, washing machines, CRT displays, flat panel displays, desktop computers, laptop computers, and mobile phones.

The results showed that the relative value of resources contained in an electronic product, compared to its market price, is very low for all products studied. This indicates that despite growing concern today, even a large-scale increase in resource prices, including precious metals, is unlikely to lead to any significant increase in market prices of electronic products. The study also indicated that the smaller and more high-tech an appliance becomes, the less valuable and more difficult it tends to become for resource recovery at the end of its lifecycle.

The aim of this paper is to conduct an analysis on the development of “relative value” of materials over time in consumer electrical/electronic equipments and household electronic appliances. With technological advancements the efficiency of our products is continuously increasing, combining less resource more efficiently for higher performance. At the same time, the absolute quantity of resources being mined and consumed has been expanding at a remarkable rate as well, keeping up with the increasing speed of economic developments and consequently people’s pursuit of greater material wealth. This increased demand for resources can have an influence on their prices, particularly on those supplies that are high in value and/or relatively limited in supply, which in turn may influence the pricing of manufactured goods that rely on those materials as ingredients.

What happens to the value of resources, as electronic products evolve from simple combinations of a few metals to a complex assembly of numerous parts, and the utility value of the produced appliances become increasingly more dependent on research and development, i.e. human intelligence and skills, rather than primarily on the cost of the resources contained?

Do the used resources decrease or increase in relative value within the products over time? Does the increased efficiency and fierce market competitions work together to keep the price under control, thus holding the relative value of resources more or less constant? 2As products’ composite materials diversify, are there grounds to be concerned for the dwindling availability and the price hikes of the so-called “scarce” or “precious” metals, or are their contribution to the composition minimal enough to not make a serious impact on the end-pricing? Are there any materials that are consistently important and irreplaceable? These are some of the questions that could begin to be addressed by tracking the changing value of materials within our electrical and electronic appliances.

Quelle: Master Thesis by Eri Nagai, submitted to the Vienna University of Technology, Institute for Water Quality, Resource and Waste Management, 2011

Bildquelle: Shutterstock

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