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Old cell phones worth more ton for ton than a gold mine

A process called “urban mining” may have many rethinking simply throwing their old electronics into the trash can or tossing them into the junk drawer to collect dust. The so-called urban mining describes a process where old electronics like computers and cell phones are scavenged and ripped apart for their base metals like iridium and gold.

With metal prices hitting all time highs around the world, the urban mining business is booming. The metals recovered from the process are reused in new electronic devices and the gold and other precious metals are melted into ingots that can be used to create jewelry or used to create new electronic devices.

Gold is common in many electronic devices and components for its ability to better transfer electricity than copper. Tadahiko Sekigawa, president of Eco-System Recycling Co. told Reuters, “It can be precious or minor metals, we want to recycle whatever we can.”

It might not seem like there would be enough gold or other precious metals inside obsolete electronics to warrant the effort of recycling. On the contrary, used electronic devices are often a much better source of gold than actually having a small gold mine.

According to Reuters a ton of ore form a gold mine produces only 5 grams of gold on average. A ton of used cell phones can yield 150 grams of gold or more. In addition to the gold the same volume of discarded phones can have 220 pounds of copper and 6.6 pounds of silver as well as other metals.

The price of gold alone hit an all time high in March 2008 of $1,030.80 per ounce. One Eco-Systems recycling plant in Honjo, Japan produces around 440 to 660 pounds of gold bars per month with 99.99% purity. This amount of gold has a worth of about $5.9 to $8.8 million on today’s market. That's literally the same output as a small gold mine.

When the amount of money that can be made from recycling old electronic components for their base metals is taken into consideration it is easy to understand why Clover Technologies Group, the winner of the contract with the USPS for its mail-in recycling project, was willing to foot the bill for shipping. The amount of money also makes the fact that America ships tons of used electronics overseas each year look like American’s are doing someone a favor.

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Free phone recycling!
By therealnickdanger on 4/30/2008 2:53:24 PM , Rating: 5
Whenever I see those bins at Best Buy, I just smile because I know that someone, somewhere, is making a fortune. I wish it was me.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By Smartless on 4/30/2008 3:02:23 PM , Rating: 4
Want to start a business together? Come one come all, we recycle cellphones, Goldschlager flakes, catalytic converters, air bags, and whatever else people don't know have precious metals in it. haha.

You know in Hawaii we're having problems with people stealing the copper wiring from street lights. I don't know if its the same everywhere else.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By FITCamaro on 4/30/2008 3:14:33 PM , Rating: 3
Its happening in many abandoned buildings and construction sites. Regardless of where you are.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By Laitainion on 4/30/2008 3:30:58 PM , Rating: 2
My train to York's been delayed before because the copper wiring (used to control the signals) was taken. While it was live, obviously since you can't just turn off the signalling system.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By nosfe on 4/30/2008 4:04:08 PM , Rating: 5
copper wiring? whats that? here in Romania you hear every now and then of people stealing the train rails!

RE: Free phone recycling!
By nugundam93 on 4/30/2008 5:53:41 PM , Rating: 2
hahahaha they steal copper wires from phone cables and even the metals from bridge rails, manhole covers, etc. in the philippines.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By rajaf on 4/30/2008 7:21:57 PM , Rating: 2
They do that in Romania too... they will steal entire sections of railroad and all the wiring along side it... some people...

RE: Free phone recycling!
By rollakid on 5/1/2008 3:44:26 AM , Rating: 2
Same too in Malaysia. Manhole covers, drain covers, street signs, even my alloy wheel airvalve cap fall victim.

Oh, they raid those unmanned recycling booth/center too, the type that you just put the stuff there.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By jtemplin on 4/30/2008 4:31:37 PM , Rating: 2
Now that goldschlager flake one is going to be a problem...

RE: Free phone recycling!
By TimberJon on 4/30/2008 4:48:23 PM , Rating: 2
In Orange County, California, some ppl dressed up like City workers and stole several miles worth of high-grade copper lines that were either deactivated or not installed yet but hanging on the poles.

Just in los angeles, trash bins are scavenged nightly in industrial areas no matter if they are locked or not, the locks are even stolen.

Just at MY workplace, someone stole our chain link fencing over one weekend, the stormdrain covers and manholes.

It's almost like a great depression. Pretty soon we will be buying our groceries/gas with used or DOA electronics.

*ponders this with much thought..*

RE: Free phone recycling!
By TimberJon on 4/30/2008 4:51:02 PM , Rating: 2
This recycling boom is probably what has been recently fueling the advertisements for Father Joe or whoever the unknown pastor is asking people to donate their vehicles, even if they don't run! METAL! Who cares if its running?

RE: Free phone recycling!
By GaryJohnson on 4/30/2008 11:30:47 PM , Rating: 5
Someone keeps taking ths stapler off my desk.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By glitchc on 5/1/2008 12:26:08 AM , Rating: 4
...someday I'm just going to have to burn this place down.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By Denigrate on 5/1/2008 12:00:22 PM , Rating: 3
No salt on my margarita . . .

RE: Free phone recycling!
By Chernobyl68 on 4/30/2008 5:43:24 PM , Rating: 2
metal theft is becoming more common here in northern california...

RE: Free phone recycling!
By smilingcrow on 4/30/2008 8:39:01 PM , Rating: 4
"Russian police hunt for thieves who stole a 200-tonne metal bridge"

RE: Free phone recycling!
By bim27142 on 5/1/2008 8:12:01 PM , Rating: 2
wow this is crazy?!?!?! ahoo ahoo!!!

RE: Free phone recycling!
By ImSpartacus on 5/1/2008 4:18:32 PM , Rating: 2
In Ohio, we are having trouble with people taking portable saws and going under cars to cut out catalytic converters.

My dad had to put his truck in a fenced in area at work rather than out in the open because it was high enough that someone could quickly get under it and back out.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By kontorotsui on 4/30/2008 3:02:24 PM , Rating: 3
Next time, put in there only the phone shell *grin*

RE: Free phone recycling!
By mmntech on 4/30/2008 3:02:28 PM , Rating: 2
"Green" is huge business. How much do you think your local municipality is pulling in recycling all those aluminum cans, or how much the grocery store is making selling you eco-bags instead of giving away free plastic ones.

I personally never throw out any electronics. My basement is full of various old parts. I've built a couple systems out of them.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By TomZ on 4/30/2008 3:08:38 PM , Rating: 5
"Green" is also driving us further away from overall economic efficiency. And considering the state of our economy, that doesn't sound like a good thing. I just cringe when I hear our presidential candidates talk about their proposed green initiatives. Makes me think they don't realize there is a tradeoff involved.

RE: Free phone recycling!
By kamel5547 on 4/30/2008 4:30:23 PM , Rating: 3
Thats very dependent on the initiative. Recycling in general does not ahve a negative drag on the overall economy (and may have a minor positive if the item depends on the sue of imported products like oil). Similarly initiatives such as an increase in the gas mileage requirements is a positive as it reduces oil imports which are a huge detriment to GDP growth.

On the other hand things like carbon cap-and-trade and 'green' credits are mostly a detriment to the economy and a waste of money at this point. The green credits especially due to the fact many of the credits created would have existed without the monetary payment based solely on economics. (this fact has led to a large increase in the rejection of carbon credit programs compared to the apst, as such programs must not be economically viable without the payments).

RE: Free phone recycling!
By Ringold on 4/30/2008 4:32:15 PM , Rating: 3
I agree, but if companies are coming in of their own free will and making profit without the nanny state subsidizing their 'urban mining', then they are just arbitraging like any free market force; taking cheap junk at one price, transmuting it to gold (literally), and selling higher.

Of course, let gold retrace its steps back down to more historically sane levels and these 'urban miners' might have to hang up their hard hats, depending on costs, etc.

If they're subsidized though, I retract all of the above. If global commodity prices being so high isn't good enough for them then they don't deserve to exist.

Perhaps you meant this but...
By PurdueRy on 4/30/2008 3:58:29 PM , Rating: 5
Gold is not a better conductor than copper...its actually worse. Common misconception.

It only becomes better because copper can corrode...if this occurs then gold would be better. However, in its natural state free of copper oxide...Copper is a better conductor.

And, as an added note, Silver is the best naturally occurring metal conductor.

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By vapore0n on 4/30/2008 4:10:33 PM , Rating: 2
What!? Are you challenging Monster Cable's gold plated gold connectors?

By BiffRapper on 5/2/2008 12:12:44 PM , Rating: 2
Monster cable is the gold standard in audio excellence!

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By Master Kenobi on 4/30/08, Rating: 0
RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By TomZ on 4/30/2008 4:26:05 PM , Rating: 2
Huh? Are you suggesting that one metal is better for digital signals, and another better for analog signals? I don't think so.

The OP is right - copper has a lower resistivity, but gold is less prone to oxidation that raises contact resistance. That's why you tend to see gold used a lot on connectors, whereas copper is used for the conductors.

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By therealnickdanger on 4/30/2008 4:33:29 PM , Rating: 2
Even a "digital" signal is still coverted to analog when transmitted along a cable... The ability of the cable to transmit will still always be better with copper (well, except for when it corrodes).

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By jtemplin on 4/30/2008 4:39:54 PM , Rating: 1
Nah, its digital and analog...its that duality man! Not that it matters for your TV signal but just a fact that energy takes wave and particle properties...

By jtemplin on 5/1/2008 11:32:18 PM , Rating: 2
I understand you were referring to the encoding of the signal, but I wanted to bring up the point of quantum effects. I'm not disputing anything nickdanger said.

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By croc on 5/1/2008 1:26:37 AM , Rating: 2
Huh??? Explain please, as my O'scope begs to differ...

By jtemplin on 5/1/2008 11:30:27 PM , Rating: 2
Your oscope finds what it is looking for. It fulfills its purpose but no more. Scientists have known for many years that matter and energy have the capability to propagate characteristic of either wave or particle.

Here is a quote from a seminal treatment on the topic of quantum theories of matter and energy,
“For both large and small wavelengths, both matter and radiation have both particle and wave aspects. ... But the wave aspects of their motion become more difficult to observe as their wavelengths become shorter. ... For ordinary macroscopic particles the mass is so large that the momentum is always sufficiently large to make the de Broglie wavelength small enough to be beyond the range of experimental detection, and classical mechanics reigns supreme.”

Ref: R. Eisberg and R. Resnick (1985). Quantum Physics of Atoms, Molecules, Solids, Nuclei, and Particles, 2nd ed., John Wiley & Sons, 59-60.

From wiki on de Broglie:
In physics, the de Broglie hypothesis is the statement that all matter (any object) has a wave-like nature (wave-particle duality). The de Broglie relations show that the wavelength is inversely proportional to the momentum of a particle and that the frequency is directly proportional to the particle's kinetic energy. The hypothesis was advanced by Louis de Broglie in 1924 in his PhD thesis[1]; he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929 for this work, which made him the first person to receive a Nobel Prize on a PhD thesis.

Experimental confirmation
In 1927 at Bell Labs, Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer fired slow-moving electrons at a crystalline nickel target. The angular dependence of the reflected electron intensity was measured, and was determined to have the same diffraction pattern as those predicted by Bragg for X-Rays. Before the acceptance of the de Broglie hypothesis, diffraction was a property that was thought to be only exhibited by waves. Therefore, the presence of any diffraction effects by matter demonstrated the wave-like nature of matter. When the de Broglie wavelength was inserted into the Bragg condition, the observed diffraction pattern was predicted, thereby experimentally confirming the de Broglie hypothesis for electrons.

By mindless1 on 5/2/2008 6:37:26 PM , Rating: 2
Your oscope doesn't beg to differ, your logical interpretation of it is the issue, in that your interpretation of that is not aligned with the distinction the prior poster is making.

Electrically, digital signals are the same as analog in that they are merely high/low threshold values. The rate may be higher, as is suceptibility to noise pickup in some cases, but each case would require further distinctions besides whether it was only digital or analog.

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By KristopherKubicki on 4/30/2008 5:58:31 PM , Rating: 2
Gold corrodes slower than copper, that's its big advantage for electronics. Except for Monster cables, which magically perform better with gold leads and cabling that all go down to solder in the AV unit anyway :)

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By jlips6 on 4/30/2008 7:05:32 PM , Rating: 2
does gold corrode at all? What sort of compounds can you create with it?

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By phxfreddy on 4/30/2008 8:55:55 PM , Rating: 3
Nope. Digital and analog electricity is one and the same beast. Gold shines in situations where you have an unsoldered spring contact such as D connectors or coaxial cables. Thus you flash plate the copper so you won't have a layer of corrosion in between.

RE: Perhaps you meant this but...
By Strunf on 4/30/2008 4:30:53 PM , Rating: 2
Yup but copper oxides quite fast that's why most connectors are made of copper and nickel plated, some are even gold plated.

By bim27142 on 5/1/2008 8:16:14 PM , Rating: 2
i agree... that's as far as what my college chemistry taught me so...

1. silver
2. copper
... then comes other elements...

Ok I'm Convinced
By Adonlude on 4/30/2008 3:06:35 PM , Rating: 2
Alright, I have a drawer full of old cell phones that I dont use anymore and I'd like to make some money. What's the process here? Do I grab a fondue kit and throw my cell phones in under medium heat then skim the gold off the top? How do I avoid an unfortunate smelting accident?

RE: Ok I'm Convinced
By StraightPipe on 4/30/2008 3:30:03 PM , Rating: 2
I read an article a few weeks back aqbout a guy who got mercury poisoning while trying to extract gold from old Mobos.

(sorry, no linky)

RE: Ok I'm Convinced
By JonB on 4/30/2008 4:20:08 PM , Rating: 2
I seem to remember that mercury can be used to scavange gold from parts (even gold bearing rock). Then you just separate the gold from the mercury. Old technology but prone to self poisoning.

RE: Ok I'm Convinced
RE: Ok I'm Convinced
By jtemplin on 4/30/2008 4:37:46 PM , Rating: 3
LOL from your link:

1. 4/1/2008 8:44:54 AM, Issueist, Tulsa, ok
dude, the mercury is banned because its dangerous...why did you use the mercury dude??

just why, i mean why did you use it dude?

just why, i mean why did you use it dude?
2. 4/1/2008 10:21:28 AM, kevin, owasso
The dude cant hear you.
He is dead.

RE: Ok I'm Convinced
By jtemplin on 4/30/2008 4:38:51 PM , Rating: 3
The dude abides.

RE: Ok I'm Convinced
By Runiteshark on 4/30/2008 4:40:43 PM , Rating: 2
The guy is from Oklahoma. After living in that hellhole for nearly 2 years, It don't surprise me one bit.

By i3arracuda on 4/30/2008 3:21:45 PM , Rating: 6
...there be a landfill in New Mexico where the sky is the deepest of blues, the grass is lush and green, and the rivers overflow with milk and honey. The wind whispers tales of of good promise and great fortune, for any and all who choose to claim it. Here, there are thousands --nay, millions! Millions of copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for Atari 2600, littering the horizon like a jagged claw from some ancient, terrible beast, stretched out before you as far as the eye can see. Waiting. Begging to be plucked from the Earth, like ripened fruit, if only some adventuring soul be able and willing to claim the fortunes buried there.

There be gold in them hills!


RE: Somewhere...
By jtemplin on 4/30/2008 4:35:56 PM , Rating: 2
Hahaha I enjoyed this...greatly =D

RE: Somewhere...
By phil126 on 4/30/2008 8:05:38 PM , Rating: 2
The is also a landfill full of thousands of Apple Lisas. I would be curious with would have more gold a ton of Atari games or a ton of Apple Lisas.

RE: Somewhere...
By djc208 on 5/1/2008 9:34:42 AM , Rating: 2
Yeeee Hawww! I'm gon'a hitch up my H1 to my 45-foot RV, have the old lady saddle up the Escalade with a backhoe and we's goin' to dig up them thair fields and streams looking fer gold!

Might even make enough money to pay for the gas to get there!

Now I just need the GPS co-ordinates of that field you were talkin bout.

RE: Somewhere...
By TheNuts on 5/1/2008 1:27:04 PM , Rating: 2
Every 5 seconds I would fall into a pit, extend my neck and have a heckuva time trying to get out without falling back in. All the while looking for those stupid pieces to call the mothership (which was impossible to find) to come pick me up

By emenon1 on 4/30/2008 9:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
Just to clarify on the analog vs. digital. Typically digital signals are sent using an analog carrier signal. The digital data is modulated onto the carrier, then becoming something of a hybrid. Think of it as a train, the train being your analog carrier and the cargo being the digital signal. Ultimately everything is transmitted via analog.

RE: Analog/Digital
By Yocal on 5/1/2008 4:42:27 PM , Rating: 2
On the contrary, I always thought the cable company sent a bunch of zeros and ones into the copper. Each company had a different sequence. IE: Comcast; 001100011100 and Time Warner; 110010011100 and so on. And each end piece of equip in the cust house could decode the signal. There is no such thing as analog

RE: Analog/Digital
By emenon1 on 5/1/2008 7:35:15 PM , Rating: 2
Well yes, you're on the right track. Those 1's and 0's or digital data are modulated onto the analog carrier. The digital is where your information is but it needs a means of transport which is analog.

As for the sequences used by the cable companies I think you're referring to encryption they use to prevent theft.

And as for analog not existing, everything to do with our existence is analog. Digital is nothing more than a translation of analog into another form and visa-versa. In its simplest form digital is on and off, analog is on, off and everything in between on and off.

RE: Analog/Digital
By Yocal on 5/1/2008 8:03:52 PM , Rating: 2
But what about digital voice and internet. Your saying that starts out as as an analog signal? And stuff like on demand and pay per view?

This is how it should work to me
By FITCamaro on 4/30/2008 3:17:00 PM , Rating: 2
I buy a cell phone, it eventually wears out and I buy a new one, I give back the old one for a credit, the cell phone is sent back to the company who made it, they (or a 3rd party) recycle it, the metals recovered go back to the company to use to make new phones and thus reduce the cost of the next new phone we buy.

By V3ctorPT on 4/30/2008 3:40:52 PM , Rating: 2
I've found gold Josephine!!! Gold I tell ya!!

-->> the "brick phone", it busts walls...

By mindless1 on 5/2/2008 6:49:38 PM , Rating: 2
That is a novel idea, but often the cost to recover, ship off, reclaim metals, dispose of the rest, then reuse those reclaimed metals again is higher than starting from scratch.

It is not reasonable to assume it reduces the cost of the next new phone, it could easily increase it's cost but in this context it's largely irrelevant as the phone cost has little to no relation to manufacturing or related sales and recycling costs, it's largely subsidized by the service provider.

However, this blog is largely unsubstantiated nonsense. Writing things like "On the contrary, used electronic devices are often a much better source of gold than actually having a small gold mine." has no factual support. A statement from someone profiting from recycling is hardly a reliable source and in fact used electronic devices are usually not a source of gold at all, only a small minority contain more than a trivial amount of gold plating on a connector or two. Cellphones do happen to be one of the most quickly disposed of devices to have gold in them so that much is correct and we ought to reclaim it, instead of wasting it, but that can be seen more as a measure to conserve resources than anything else, we can't just dig up every plot of land and leave large pits everywhere.

Copper > Gold
By Yawgm0th on 5/1/2008 11:35:14 AM , Rating: 2
Gold is common in many electronic devices and components for its ability to better transfer electricity than copper. Tadahiko Sekigawa, president of Eco-System Recycling Co. told Reuters, “It can be precious or minor metals, we want to recycle whatever we can.”

You should know better, Shane. Gold does not conduct electricity better than copper. Gold is used in place of copper to reduce problems from oxidation in some applications. Much of the commercial electronic products that use gold also do so purely for marketing. Copper and Silver are the materials to use when it comes to electrical conductivity.

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