precious metals in e-waste recycling mobile phones

On the surface, electronics look harmless—but there’s a lot buried beneath the shiny cases and modern logos—and a lot of it is metal. Electronics require many different components to be able to function, and these components are often made of various metals. While some of these metals are precious and worth salvaging, others are harmful to human health, and pose risks when they are dumped or dismantled in unsafe ways. So what are some of the metals that can be found in consumer electronics, and why should we worry about them?

More about the environmental risks of dumping electronics

Precious Metals in E-Waste — Lost Value and Environmental Impact

There are several types of precious metals in e-waste that hold a great deal of value, and require substantial mining efforts to retrieve initially. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released statistics on the lost value of the metals thrown away with e-waste, and the numbers are pretty shocking—about 60 million dollars a year in just gold and silver from cell phones alone. Some of the precious metals lost from a million trashed cell phones include:

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

These salvageable materials are highly recyclable and reusable—at a rate of about 60-99%! There is no reason to be losing out on that amount of precious metal—especially with the amount of global e-waste climbing every year. Unfortunately, precious metals aren’t the only components on the circuit board…

Learn about data security when recycling cell phones!

The Toxic Metals—An Obstacle and a Threat

Along with the precious metals found in electronics, some more harmful metals are used to make products functional. Common toxic metals found in electronics include:
toxic waste and Precious Metals in E-Waste

  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Beryllium
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium

These metals, along with other toxins found in e-waste (such as flame retardants) are extremely dangerous to human health, affecting the lungs, kidneys, bones, nervous systems, hormone levels, and more. When e-waste is dumped into a landfill, toxins can leach out into the soil, water, and air over time, causing environmental harm and health problems in the community.

In many developing countries, dumped e-waste is seen as an opportunity, and people often dismantle old electronics to extract the valuable metals, leaving them vulnerable to the effects of the toxic components. Skin contact and breathing in fumes caused by crushing, burning, or otherwise dismantling the e-waste can lead to health problems and birth defects over time.

Regulations on the Rise

While regulations on recycling e-waste and forbidding export of unwanted electronics to developing countries has improved over the last few years, there is still a lot of work to do. E-waste is a global issue, and countries have slowly been getting on board with protecting the environment and human health by passing stricter regulations. Salvaging metals safely has other benefits too—it reduces costs and slows down the need for mining, which has significant impact on the environment.

Compliance risks of dumping electronics

Do Your Part

Knowledge of the issues surrounding e-waste is the first step, but working toward a society that mandates electronics recycling is the ultimate goal, and will be crucial to preserving our environment and our communities. You can do your part by making sure your household and company’s e-waste is re-purposed or recycled in safe ways.

Ever wonder why e-cycling is so hard for consumers?

Companies that need to offload unwanted equipment will need to work with a responsible IT asset disposition company that will salvage usable components and recycle the equipment in a safe and compliant manner. Choosing a certified recycler can be difficult, so do your research before you make a decision. Want more info about ICT? Check out our services here.

We’d like to know—are your old cell phones part of the problem? Or part of the solution?

Ronnie Deaver Profile PicAuthor Bio: Ronnie is the Marketing Manager for ICT Asset Recovery. He loves swing dancing, wine, responsible recycling and adventuring around the world. A recent transplant from Texas, he’s been soaking in the Boston scene and diligently working with ICT to promote the message of responsible e-waste recycling.




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