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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.

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