How e-Waste Recycling Can Generate Raw Materials


Not many people think much of their old phone once it dies and they replace it with a sleeker newer model. Perhaps it is time to start. In the U.S alone, it is calculated that $55 billion dollars in e-waste are thrown out annually.  Globally, that estimate skyrockets to about 62.5 billion dollars (or higher), which is three times the net gain of all the world’s silver mines. This number is only expected to double in the next 25 years.

What if there was a way to take those old phones and give the materials that comprise them another chance at life? Think about all the valuable raw materials it takes to create a single phone: all that copper, gold, tin, and silver. Old unwanted phones have a way of piling up and have plenty to offer, even long after they have stopped working.  All across the globe they are sitting in junk drawers, trash cans, recycling centers.

You probably have heard of e-waste, and it is indeed a problem. Did you ever imagine that you can help address it simply by recycling your old devices? Here is how it works:

How to Turn Junk into Money

While e-waste recycling is just beginning to gain more momentum, the process itself is fairly straightforward. All the e-waste –that means phones but also laptops, tablets, and any other electronic gadgets — that is collected is brought to a recycling facility and put on a conveyor belt.

The old devices first go through a rotating shredder, which chews the unwanted technology into micro bits. This initiates the separation of metals and plastics. Then, the shredded waste moves under a large electromagnet, which pulls out metals such as steel and iron. Further mechanical processes remove copper and aluminum. The waste left on the belt at this point is largely plastic and glass. Water is then used to further separate these.

Finally, it is time to remove the trace metals. Specifically, when an oxidant is combined with acetic and other acids, gold can be quickly dissolved so that it may be extracted.

Surprising Profits

There is 100 times more gold in one ton of cellphones than there is in one ton of gold ore.  Plus, it is already dug out of the earth, so you are not paying for the cost of extraction.

So what does this actually look like?  Well, if you recycled 1 million phones, you would get about 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium. Perhaps it is no surprise that E-waste recycling industry is currently estimated at around $40 billion dollar a year,

So Much Still to Gain

The potential of the e-waste recycling business is still largely untapped. As little as 10% – 40% of unwanted e-products are currently being recycled.

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.  But in this case, maybe it is more accurate to say there is treasure in the trash. Either way you look at it, the wreckage of our past seems to be the way of the future.

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