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There's Gold In Them There Cell Phones
Jeremy Faludi, 6 Dec 06
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There's Gold In Them There Cell Phones. An average of about 40 cents of gold, to be specific. According to the US Geological Survey's 2006 report, "Recycled Cell Phones—A Treasure Trove of Valuable Metals", there's also thirteen cents of palladium, six cents of silver, and a few cents of copper and platinum (not to mention the penny or two of plastic case, which makes up 58% of a cell phone by weight). This may not sound like a whole lot, but they describe how the 130 million cell phones "retired" (recycled or thrown away) in the US in 2005, and the 500 million obsolete cell phones collecting dust in people's closets, cause these small values to add up very quickly.

The report runs the numbers on the financial value waiting to be extracted from dead mobiles: if all closet-sitting cell phones were recycled, they would yield $314 million worth of metal; they would also comprise 10% of the nation's recycled silver market, and 18% of its recycled gold market. If all the retired phones were recycled as well as the dust-collectors, the metal would be worth almost $400 million.

This is a good wake-up call for the value of recycling electronics in general, not just cell phones. However, it's also a reminder of the importance of easy and fast disassembly (which we've written about before.) If the value of materials in a single cell phone is just worth a few cents, it needs to cost next to nothing per phone to recover them. This is why cutting-edge manufacturers are trying things like active disassembly and other means to make disassembly fast and simple.

I swear the get-rich scheme of the coming century will be to buy up mining rights to landfills today, then wait ten or twenty years for the value of the metals, plastics, and other recyclables in them to skyrocket.

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Many common items have hidden treasures. For example, a little known fact is that there is close to a dollars wort of gold in a printer cartage.


Posted by: Todd on 6 Dec 06

How many Cell phones end up in the dump again? How many electronics end up in the dump? Perhaps we should focus our efforts towards mining the dumps.


Posted by: Chris on 7 Dec 06

I was thinking about this very project a few years ago...and did some research and what i learned was almost enough to give me a heartattack.

Sure sounds easy doesnt it...just "buy up dumps and mine them"....and make Millions and then go on vacation for the rest of your life.

When one actually stops to consider the issue for a moment however mucho problemas become very clear.

First of all dumps are by their very nature TOXIC..Rain water over the years flows down into them and since ALL post 1980s style dumps have by law a "plastic ass" they are in fact rather like swimming pools of toxic wastes (moreover goverment report show that MOST ALREADY are allowing Toxic waste to flow into the nation water system....now that YOU Own the property in question i thought i should mention that BOSS.).in fact goverment reports show that nearly ALL Dumps have massive levels of Toxic soup that is CURRENTLY an EPA nightmare....and just the thought of actually digging around in one of these hell holes is enough to send swarms of Lawyers flying from New York and Washington D.C. at the speed of light.

...Of course the FACT that most of the large Post 1980s style mega dumps already have Homes built either near them or ON them makes the case even more horrific.

Fact is that many of these mega dumps (can i say Damb near ALL?) ALREADY have legal actions pending from the poor souls (usually African Americans..or poor Whites) unlucky enough to have been born righ where the Government wanted to dump the nations toxic wastes.

Breaking ground at one of these dumps would be an ecological W.M.D. for not only the Air and Water of the state in question but also a major health risk for the people (and plants and animals I.E. LEGAL ACTIONS wink wink) down hill and down wind of the property.

To even have a CHANCE of getting off the ground would take YEARS (or longer) of High cost court battles...then YEARS (or longer) or fighting off or $$$ Paying off thousands (or millions ) of people....and then YEARS showing the EPA just how you were going to deal with the property....then YEARS (or longer) showing how you were going to deal with all of the MILLIONS of TONS of toxic material you were bring up out its grave.

Ohh did i mention years of legal battle showing just how you were going to protect the regions water/air/crops and Biological sytems from these toxins you stomp'in around in?

.....and then of course you would have to spend BIG MONEY (and years in court) showing EVERYONE just how you were going to clean off the Toxic waste from the products you wanted to keep and work on.

....and then you would still be forced into major legal actions because ALL OF YOUR THEN WORKERS WOULD EITHER BECOME ILL...or at least Claim they became ILL..WORKING ON YOUR TOXIC OLD CELL PHONES FOR YOU.

Ohh and then there are all of the towns down hill and down wind that would take you back into court because you see they also are seeing "very high levels" of this and that.

CLearly you would also need to spend BIG MONEY (and major legal actions) just to find some location that you could put all of the BILLIONS OF TONS of toxic waste back in the ground once you had taken you 10 cents worth of Gold out it.

Im not sure how high metal prices would have to go to make this idea make money....but you sure as heck had better make a bunch of it.

....Because there is going to be a line all the way to Washington D.C. of people with a claim on EVERY DIME OF IT.


Posted by: Tony the Tiger on 7 Dec 06

QUOTE: "I swear the get-rich scheme of the coming century will be to buy up mining rights to landfills today, then wait ten or twenty years for the value of the metals, plastics, and other recyclables in them to skyrocket."

This is the dumbest statement of this century. You call waiting a decade or more to fish around in toxic soup for a few metals(with hyper-inflated prices) a "get-rich-quick" scheme?? HAHAHA! You would do much better to just buy the [insert metal here] in bar form and wait 10 or 20 years for prices to skyrocket....much easier, and less legal troubles.



Posted by: Rock on 11 Dec 06

those are some great points that dont ever seem to enter into this debate its always some pie in the sky geeee look how easy it will be to get rich from dumps

i also question the metals themselves i mean these metals are all going to have toxic material on them for years and years so who is to suggest that the metals from these dumps wouldnt still be toxic or at least still have some toxic material in/on them?

are consumers going to be willing to buy products with these dump metals that may still be unsafe?

will dump metals be cleared for us in consumer products?

will people actually pay full market price for copper, silver and gold thats been sleeping in a toxic solution for 20-50 years?

does anyone really think that consumer products with dump metals wont be fair game for the mother of all legal actions?

you want to use material that been sleeping in toxic bath for god knows what for 20 or 50 years to make toys for children and phones for teens i guess im just not sure i trust this idea?

Arent many dumps known to hold low yield radioactive material from hospitals and the like?

scary imho


Posted by: hurkulees on 12 Dec 06

You're right that there will be a lot of toxic sludge around the metals in a landfill. However, you're apparently unaware of the vast quantities of toxic sludge (called "tailings") produced by normal mining. It's not uncommon for a mine to dump two thousand tons of tailings a day, sometimes into local rivers. The Third World Network has said the worst environmental disaster ever to hit the Philippines was the leakage of mine tailings ( http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/toxic-ch.htm ). "It was estimated that the total amount of mine sludge spilled into the rivers was 1.5 million cubic metres... 400 families had to flee to higher grounds. Their sources of drinking water were contaminated while fish, freshwater shrimp and pigs were killed... The government estimates that this toxic waste killed P1.8 million worth of mature freshwater and marine life and P5 million bangus fry. The 27-kilometre Boac river, which is the main source of livelihood for those who are not part of the 1,000-strong workforce of Marcopper, has been declared dead by government officials." Read the article for full details of the tragedy.

Landfills would have a vastly better percentage of ore to tailings than virgin mines; in the 10-1 or 100-1 range, as opposed to virgin mining's 1000-1 or millions-to-1 percentages. And, as a bonus, we could get toxic landfills cleaned up!


Posted by: Jeremy Faludi on 12 Dec 06

No question that mines can totally destroy the econsystem around them. (its a dirty job)

The Difference in my mind is in the nature and number of the toxins were talking about here.

Mines tend to produce a few toxic compounds and tons and ton of dirt that kills off the water ecology.

Its a danger no question but very different from the situtaiton we have with dumps.

Its my understanding that nearly every toxic material known on the planet is to be found in this nations dumps. The massive number of toxins is enough to make a mine look like a nature park.

dioxin, vinyl chloride, plastic compounds, paint, glue, oil, chlorine based materials, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), nitrogen oxides, MTBE, herbicides, pesticides, naphthalene,trichloroethane, tetrachloroethene, carbon tetrachloride, 1,2-dichloroethane, trichloroethene and xylene....just to name a few of our friends here.

Not to mention radioactive contamination!

So were talking about an ecological WMD here...not a "problem mine"...IMHO.

This from the BBC:

{"Toxic landfill sites linked to birth defects

The environmental group Friends of the Earth called for immediate action to assess the full extent of the landfill danger, and to reduce the amount of toxic waste the UK produces.

FoE senior waste campaigner Mike Childs said: "This research is extremely worrying. Friends of the Earth has warned for a number of years that landfill sites are toxic timebombs.

"There are thousands of landfill sites around the country, and no-one has a clue what toxic chemicals are dumped in many of them. "}


So arent we talking about a property...a real estate...that ALREADY has a MASSIVE LIABILITY around its neck?

If I went out to buy of the rights to that real estate would my compand ALREADY have a MAJOR ISSUE on our hands?

....and then what when/if we break ground?

Could ANYONE actually make a dime working under these conditions? thats the real question here isnt it?

Wont future genertations living around...or even near... these dumps be an ongoing liability for the property in question?


Posted by: tony the Tiger on 14 Dec 06

So, how can someone safely extract the precious metals in discarded electronics? I'm thinking on an individual or small group basis, not crushing a ton of cell phones, treating them with cyanide. Just a phone or two at a time. It could be a great project for girl scout troops, etc. Anybody doing this? How can I learn more about it? Thanks.


Posted by: Anne D on 15 Dec 06

I dont think you want your little girl scout troops working in the kitchen on old cell phones.

{"It could be a great project for girl scout troops, etc. Anybody doing this? How can I learn more about it? Thanks."}

Most electrical products hold a host of deadly materials within them and many are also treated with chemicals thought to be a danger to human health.

Many workers in the computer production line have become ill working around these chemicals and it seems to be a growing problem for the industry and may be one reason why most of those jobs have been shipped off to 3rd world nations.

Nearly all electrical products use lead to join their materials just to mention one of a long list of dangers.

The real problem with starting up a company to recycle old cell phones and electronics is that metal prices are just far to low to make money it just take way to much time and energy to get the metals in question. A cell phone may have 20 cents worth of gold in it but it might cost $1.50 in Energy and $2.00 bucks in man hours to get that 20 cents.

If gold prices were to climb back up 8 or 10 times in real terms then we could star talking about it only then we would have to add into the equation the costs of dealing with the deadly materials found around that gold.

gold prices might have to climb 10 to 20 times current prices in real terms before this bird can fly It will happen just not anytime soon i think

meantime keep your girl scouts away from breaking open cell phones


Posted by: DaRoja on 17 Dec 06



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