Innovative Practices Lead to Higher Precious Metal Recovery

As e-waste continues to flood our waste stream, the improper disposal of electronics—specifically cell phones and computers—is a huge threat to the environment.

State-of-the-art electronics are also a treasure trove of precious metals. And while pulling precious metals from these items makes sense financially, it has also resulted in significantly improved environmentally friendly and sustainable recycling technologies.

According to the January 2019 report from the World Economic Forum, in the U.S., the recycling rate of e-waste hovers around 25 percent. The remaining 75 percent of this waste is stored in numerous places due to a lack of convenient recycling options. But this e-waste is teeming with precious metals, all of which can be recovered and recycled for future use. For instance, in 2015 Apple reported that it had recovered more than a ton of gold from recycled devices, resulting in over $40 million worth of gold, reducing the need for future mining efforts.

As Meredith Leahy, waste diversion manager and circular solutions lead at Rubicon explained, the EPA has published some key numbers on the amount of precious metals we have in our electronics.

“The EPA states that cell phones alone contain gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc. Those recovered materials can then be used in items like jewelry, other electronics and even art,” Leahy said.

As Leahy explained, there are two dominant approaches to recycling today’s used electronics – one is de-manufacturing, which is manually dismantling the electronics in order to utilize the raw materials that are found for recycling and the other is shredding, where the electronics are loaded into large shredders which helps to reduce manual sorting and separation of components.

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