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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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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.

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