Recent problems with Chinese supplies of rare earths — minerals that are crucial to many Japanese technologies — have sent the country’s traders and companies in search of alternative sources, deep into the mountains of electronic waste that have accumulated over the years.
The Japanese call it urban mining: “We’ve literally discovered gold in cellphones,” said Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, a former land minister and now opposition party member, on a visit to Kosaka’s recycling factory.
The parts for recycling come from around Japan and even overseas, including the United States.
Besides gold, the recycling factory has so far successfully reclaimed rare metals like indium, used in liquid-crystal display screens, and antimony, used in silicon wafers for semiconductors.
Efforts are on to reclaim the harder-to-mine minerals included among the rare earths — like neodymium, a vital element in industrial batteries used in electric motors, and dysprosium, used in laser materials.
The New York Times