Whether you realize it or not, there’s a gold rush occurring as we speak. It doesn’t involve mining gold from the ground; it’s recovering the shiny stuff from e-waste. Electronics, such as computers and cellphones, contain gold and silver in relatively high concentrations. Recovering these precious metals is a worldwide revolution happening everywhere from the slums of under-developed countries to some of the biggest electronics manufacturers in the world.
According to Phys.org, approximately 320 tons of gold and 7,500 tons of silver are used each year to make new computers, cellphones, tablets and other electronics. This equates to about $21 billion at today’s prices. When broken or outdated, the precious metals used in these products are processed at recycling facilities or through “backyard recycling” methods common in poorer countries.
It’s now easy see why all of the major electronics manufacturers (i.e., Sony, Dell and Hewlett Packard) offer e-cycling programs. According to the New York Times, Hewlett Packard’s 200,000-square-foot recycling facility processes 1.5 million lbs. of e-waste each month. Each ton of e-waste yields up to 10-ounces of gold and silver.
Just 15-percent of the gold and silver metal in e-waste is ever recovered. According to Phys.org, about 50-percent of gold is lost during crude backyard recycling operations. Modern recycling facilities are able to recover a substantially higher percentage of precious metals found in e-waste.
What’s surprising about this new type of gold mining is that it’s a far more efficient way to mine for gold compared to ground-extraction methods. While companies like HP may extract up to 10-ounces of gold per ton of material, a traditional gold mine only extracts about six-ounces of gold ore per ton of material.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates two million tons of e-waste enters U.S. landfills each year. Based on the extraction figures provided by HP, this is equivalent to 20 million ounces of valuable precious metals wasting away in landfills.
Before You Raid Local Landfills in Search of Gold…
E-cycling is big business today. However, it’s not the safest thing to do on your own in some sort of backyard e-cycling process. While electronics contain a good amount of gold and silver, these items also contain levels of toxic elements, such as lead and mercury. These substances are highly toxic and can even lead to death in large amounts.
Places like the U.S. and the European Union have recently stiffened rules and regulations regarding the types of toxic metals electronics manufacturers can use in their products. However, items like old CRT monitors and older TVs still contain levels of lead and other toxic substances. So, it’s obviously not a good idea to start your own backyard e-cycling program.
You can Still Profit from Old, Broken Electronics
It may be too unsafe for you to extract the gold and silver from your own broken and unused electronics, but you can still profit from them. Check out the resources below to find a place to safely recycle your old electronics while making a few bucks in the process:
You can also find some great information about where to sell your old, broken electronics over at Mashable.