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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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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.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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