Recycling mobile phones has been in the news lately. You may not realize it, but there are a host of precious metals in that little handset that keeps you connected on-the-go. Gold and silver are just two elements that manufactures put into that magic box you talk into.
Recovering these metals is called “urban mining”, and it’s becoming more profitable as the prices of metals reach near-record prices. Recovered materials are reused in new electronic parts and gold and silver is melted down to be sold as ingots for jewelers and precious metals investors. Gold is often used in cell phone circuit boards because gold conducts electricity better than copper. But even copper is reaching record prices as developing countries expand their electronic infrastructures.
Recycling mobile phones produces more gold ton for ton over the average goldmine. A ton of gold ore contains on average 5 grams (0.18 ounce) of gold, while a ton of used mobile phones contain 150 grams (5.3 ounces) of gold. Urban miners don’t get to use explosives but they can make a hefty profit with gold selling for around $890 an ounce.
Copper, tin, silver and iridium are also recycled from mobile phones. A ton of cell phones contain 100 kg (220 lb) of copper and 3 kg (6.6 lb) of silver. Urban miners are able to dig-up these elements without having to worry about claim-jumpers, and the hazards of eating pork and beans with every meal.