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A Brief Guide to Precious Metals in Electronics

When most people think about gathering their unwanted Gold or Silver for melt value, they think of broken jewelry and unattractive antique Silver tableware. They often fail to remember old electronic devices contain a surprising amount of Precious Metals that we all have an obligation to re-use and recycle. Very few people have a good understanding of just what Precious Metals in what quantities are hidden inside their unused electronics. Here, we will examine just what Precious Metals may lie within your old devices.

Recently, London-based artists Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen dove into this concept by deconstructing old electronics from a decommissioned factory and gathering all the Precious Metals hidden inside the practical devices and machinery. The piece of artwork is essentially a lump of combined Gold, Copper and other elements and it brings into specific relief the value of raw materials that remains within abandoned devices. Some people feel the art is really about the imperative urgency of recycling the Precious Metals from old electronics.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided projections on the amount of Precious Metals that may be found in America’s devices and the information is staggering: “One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of Gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the U.S.” The EPA also reminds us that our cell phones alone contain Gold, Silver, Platinum and Palladium, as well as copper, tin and zinc. If we as a society committed to recovering these materials, they could be used for other applications including further production of electronics, the automotive industry, jewelry making and art. 

To give us perspective, experts at the EPA ball-parked some numbers. They estimate that each million cell phones recycled would yield these amounts of Precious Metals: 

  • 75 pounds of Gold 
  • 772 pounds of Silver 
  • 33 pounds of Palladium 
  • 35,274 pounds of Copper 

Experts calculate that there are more cell phones in the U.S. than there are citizens, and there are more than 320 million of us! Admit it—you probably have a couple of old phones in your house right now. That is a good bit of viable Precious Metals lingering in junk drawers and office cabinets

Even as we turn our attention to more practical electronics, the numbers remain fascinating. We expect smartphones to be on the cutting edge of technology, but an old desktop computer alone holds a considerable amount of Precious Metal worth recovering. One breakdown of the Precious Metal content of an old, disused computer includes Gold, a key part of most circuit boards due to its conductivity, malleability and resistance to corrosion, as well as the Silver and Palladium that make up the components and soldering of many circuit boards. Also appearing on the list were Copper, iron and steel.

Convention wisdom alone tells us that our electronic devices contain valuable Precious Metals—it’s one of the things that allows them to perform as they do with superior speed and portability. We are pleased to provide you with real figures that may help you understand just how valuable our old electronics are and why it is so important to re-use or recycle the raw materials inside our old devices.

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