Computers. There are just so many of them that it seems overwhelming at times. So how do we go about recycling them so that in a thousand years the world isn't swimming in old computers? And why don't we do this more often?
For starters, mining is easier than recycling. Recycling requires having more energy than we do materials. Yet this is a one way curve, and recycling will eventually win because the cost for the resources will be higher than those of recycling.
Like with many things the answer is economic, otherwise companies wouldn't be doing it, but how much more efficient is this process? You're still having to burn enough fuel to smelt the metals, then you have to consume enough electricity to allow for the metal transfer plus all of the equipment to use those metals afterward.
But to win back used metals its the same process that is used for a lot of primary silver and gold so there isn't really any new technology here. The process to recover copper and silver from 1980 is almost the same technology used today. The process is the same, but the methods have become more streamlined.
While it may seem strange, these are not the metals that they are trying so hard to recover.
Metals like Cobalt, Magnesium, Copper, Gold, and soon to be Lithium are in a surprisingly limited supply for the purposes of economic mining. Not to mention many of the rare earth metals which are currently vital in things like solar panels, turbines, and medical equipment have been estimated to have less than 50 years of virgin supply.
Basically of all the usages for lithium metal, batteries are a relatively small fraction.
If more car manufacturers adopt lithium batteries a la Tesla, we may see some Lithium shortages in the not so distant future. Lithium prices are low because Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile discovered easily accessible lake deposits, and this is de-incentivising new extraction efforts elsewhere in the world.
Basically, car batteries are an extremely tiny portion of the Lithium market. If they really do catch on as a worldwide replacement for combustion engine transportation, the supply of Lithium will not be able to keep up with demand until adaptation of EVs slows down.
Lithium reserves are deep but not so deep that we can rely on easily obtainable lithium for batteries throughout the century. If we can figure out an efficient way to mine lithium from oceans, then problem solved.
As of today both mining, refining and recycling of metals are energy intensive.
Mining and refining takes more energy because of the transporting and and refining of ore. Scrape material technically takes less energy in regards to transportation because more of the material is the material you that you want than compared to raw ore. The same applies to refining.
So for various aspects of recycling are very economical, it just depends on the resource. Plastic is what is uneconomical due to low petroleum prices.