Electric vehicle proponents like to make the argument that a shift a way from the internal combustion engine will result in a bevy of environmental benefits. But the materials such as lithium needed for these cars’ batteries imposes its own ecological impact. Furthermore, municipalities across the U.S. struggle with the reprocessing of electronic waste (e-waste), while they literally throw away money as many of these same materials often end up in landfill.
But one environmentalist and self-described e-waste pioneer is showing that there is business potential in what many assume is a huge challenge with limited solutions. Eric Lundgren has long touted a process that he calls “hybrid recycling,” and has advised some of the best-known electronics brands in finding more creative ways to improve their waste diversion processes. And as a result of all the mounting e-waste that is easy to find in landfills and junkyards across the U.S., Lundgren has cobbled together a vehicle that he says can take on a Tesla Model S.
Lundgren’s genius is what he calls the “Phoenix,” a salvaged BMW that has been retrofitted with 88 percent recycled materials. The cost of the Phoenix has set Lundgren back about $12,900. Compare that to a Tesla Model S, which starts at approximately $68,000. Furthermore, this Phoenix has left some of the leading electric vehicle car models in the dust with its range, which last month Lundgren claimed was 340 miles on a single charge.
And at 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the Phoenix left the Chatsworth neighborhood in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley to drive to San Diego and back – alongside a $150,000 Tesla Model S -- in order to see which car boasts a longer range. [ Ed note: We're still waiting on the results and will update the article when we hear back!]
Lundgren's jerry-rigged recycled car has already taken on the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt. For him, it's less about ego and more about his point that far more can be done in the U.S. and overseas about innovation in electronic waste recycling. Depending on the source cited, anywhere from 20 million to 50 million metric tons of e-waste is disposed annually. For years, consumers have been tossing out valuable materials such as gold, and silver, along with less-understood elements such as neodymium and scandium.
The volume of these materials in themselves maybe relatively small, but discarded computers, cell phones and other electronic gadgets comprise the vast majority of toxins in landfills across the globe. And gadgets that are actually salvaged are often shipped abroad to developing countries, which accomplishes little more than exporting wealthier nations’ environmental problems – and creating health hazards for those workers tasked with dismantling and smelting these unwanted items.
All of these expensive materials tucked away into electronic gadgets provide economic opportunity – but no one has figured out a cost-effective process that could scale quite yet. Lundgren, who is head of his own e-waste recycling advisory firm, believes he has the answers – one that will be testing the limits of the much-celebrated Tesla along I-5 and other Southern California highways today.
Image credit: ITAP
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.