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Team discovers hidden goldmine of valuable discarded goods in China: 'Whoever knows where the pond is gets the fish'

Either way, China ultimately benefits.

Either way, China ultimately benefits.

Photo Credit: iStock

A group of seven men in southern China recently made an exciting discovery: piles of discarded electric vehicle batteries containing valuable metals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel.

These metals can be extracted and resold, transforming what some may see as junk into money in the bank.

The group, who call themselves "garbage collectors," are taking advantage of China's EV boom by trading this suddenly precious scrap metal, according to Auto Blog. With dead batteries piling up as EVs retire from roads and driveways, there are reusable resources up for grabs.

Recycling those retired batteries at scale would give Chinese automakers a leg up on international competitors. They could produce new EVs affordably using recycled metals and batteries, making the end product doubly green.

This win-win would tick all the boxes: saving manufacturers money, keeping cars affordable for drivers, and preventing waste from clogging landfills.

Recycling helps everyone worldwide by closing the loop on valuable materials. Extracting metals from used batteries has a carbon impact about four times lower than mining them new, according to McKinsey. As prices surge for scarce resources, recycling retired batteries into new EVs keeps costs low while protecting fragile environments.

In the U.S., Redwood Materials has been emerging as a leader in EV battery recycling, with Toyota recently striking a deal with the company led by Tesla co-founder JB Straubel. There are three main ways of recycling these types of batteries, with Redwood focusing on hydrometallurgical recycling, which can recover 80% of lithium and close to 100 percent of other key materials, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Most old batteries in China flow into unregulated "gray markets" with little oversight, but China aims to consolidate battery recycling under consistent national guidelines. Standardizing the process will help quality control while still rewarding ingenious entrepreneurs like China's battery-collecting crew.

So next time you see an old gadget headed for the trash, think twice. Hidden inside could be resources ready for new life.

With a little elbow grease from modern-day prospectors, that discarded device could transform into savings for you and less stress on our planet. Our world is filled with buried treasure if we take the time to hunt for it.

"It's just like a wild fish pond without anybody taking care of it," said 29-year-old Li, one of China's garbage collectors. "Whoever knows where the pond is gets the fish."

Either way, China ultimately benefits from its underground recycling industry.

"Chinese carmakers have access to both a larger and more mature recycling market, and they're producing vehicles in a market that doesn't have the same requirements as the EU," said Hans Eric Melin, managing director at the battery consultancy Circular Energy Storage, per Auto Blog.

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