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.