gold miningYou’ve heard rumors and reports of all the physical gold and silver that is headed to the landfill every year via discarded electronics- but just how much gold, silver, and platinum is really in your iPhone or tablet?

According to Ken Beyer, CEO of the Electronics Recycling Company, there is in fact more gold in a pound of electronics than in a pound of rich gold ore.
Forget South Africa, is Urban Mining the future for gold and silver producers/ recyclers?

Mining Your iPhone for Gold & Silver- the Infographic


2013 Silver Eagles As Low As $2.59 Over Spot at SDBullion!


From 911Metallurgist


10ozntr ban

  1. These are very cool facts. My question is how  many Iphones and like valuable electronics have been consigned to the  land fill/ That is some seriously nasty digging.  It’s one thing when a miner tears gold and silver in a mine out in the countryside but excavating a sanitary?! land fill 5 miles from a city is another thing.  those landfills are toxic waste nightmares best left covered.  Opening them up would have the environmental people going bananas. Maybe 50 years from now this would be a good site to dig but now?? Maybe not so much

    • @AGXIIK:  Exactly.  It’ll be many years before we see anything other than a tiny amount of landfill mining.  It’s just not going to happen for a very long time.  Above and beyond the environmental logistics, drawing an analogy to ore grade, the “grade” of electronics-derived precious metals obtainable per given ton of trash would probably make a 0.25 gram per ton gold mine in tough geological and recoveries conditions look attractive by comparison.  See my post below for even more problems with this info-graphic.

    • Wonder how many precious metals are being dissolved into the leachate they pump out into treatment ponds? Might be self mining for some metals over time and the settling ponds have concentrated ore.

    • @MaryB:  Great question!  I don’t know the answer.  But I do know enough about mining and what it takes to dissolve precious metals that I might have some insight.

      Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t most leachate operations just taking the natural liquids that flow through (rain) and out (rain and liquids from the trash itself) of a landfill and processing it rather than manually adding liquid and “flushing” a landfill?  If that’s the case, it’s not like they’d be adding solvents or other chemicals to the liquid *before* it entered the landfill.  And if that’s the case, whatever might be dissolved in liquid would have to be dissolved just because chemicals happened to exist in the landfill itself and in high enough concentrations to dissolve precious metals.  If all those assumptions are correct, based on my experience, I can say it would be unlikely much, if any, precious metals would be dissolved.

      It also would seem that any solvent strong enough to dissolve precious metals is certainly not the sort of thing one would want to flush into a landfill.  Hydrochloric acid is one of the main chemicals used to dissolve PMs out of electronics and that stuff would melt away a huge amount of raw organic matter and trash and probably royally screw-up a landfill.  Not to mention the fact that even a mere gallon of the stuff bought in bulk would still cost more than $10/gallon. 

  2. This info-graphic has huge problems.  At first I thought specialized in materials processing and recycling.  If that was the case I’d cut them some slack because they’d be talking their book.  But they appear to be involved with mineral process engineering — done by miners.  In any event, they’re being way too geeky for their own good, missing the big picture.  Put on your critical thinking hats and let’s take a walk in the shoes of an analyst, not a materials engineer. 

    First of all, the key dollar value figures are those shown for platinum, gold, silver, aluminum and copper, which given their chosen prime example total $2.13 per iphone 5.   The listing of the top 9 most recycled phones and their recycle value has almost nothing to do with metals content.    Showing those 9 most recycled phones and their high dollar value is nothing more than a distraction.  Those dollar values don’t operate as an incentive to melt down phones and metals extraction to recycling companies because when there is in fact a robust enough secondary market for used phones, that’s how those high dollar values are generated — by selling the phones second hand, not extracting a tiny metal value out of them.

    Second, even if one wanted to make reasonable money out of that $2.13 per phone (or similar based on other phones), considerable economies of scale must be in action to make it possible.  That’s the Achilles heel to any notion that a bonanza in landfill mining or even proactive recycling can have a huge impact on the going forward supply of precious metals.   It’s easier to obtain economies of scale on an average open pit gold/silver mine with lousy ore grades and still make money versus being able to amass a large enough pile of phones to have the two activities anywhere near comparable economically — never mind rank in the same ballpark when it comes to the relative metals output of each activity.  

    It’s wonderful that a small number of companies make a lot of money doing recycling.  It’s wonderful that some individuals even get into this gig and make some money out of salvage extraction.  But the aggregate annual supply of recycled metal can’t grow fast from these activities.  It more or less will reach a relative percentage of new production and just stay in that general area.  Don’t take my word for it.  Look at the actual recycle stats for silver as a case study. 

    GFMS and the Silver Institute produce poor data when it comes to global consumption coming out of China and other places, and they do a poor job dealing with the extra supply coming to market from the cartel central bank dis-hording.  But at least they do a good job with respect to the generic bean counting of silver scrap coming back to market — and it’s an easier bean counting task for them because most of the activity takes place at a small number of refining companies.  Click here (PDF warning) and look at page 8 under “world silver supply.”  You’ll notice that for ten years silver scrap has been flowing at a level that’s “sticky” – not constant, but sticking around the 200 million oz level and not being impacted much by even the *increase* in mine production.  Sure, silver coming from analog photography declines each year and electronics recycling is making up for that decline.  But even after ten years of ever more electronic crap being produced, scrap silver supply really isn’t doing much.

    As a somewhat unrelated side note, I’ve actually investigated how to extract metals from electronics.  I also mine as a small-scale hobby.  Believe it or not, I can get more metal value playing around for three hours in one of my local creeks in Southern Oregon than spending the time it would take to get an equivalent amount out of electronics.  The process of electronics extraction is nasty as heck, too. 

    • “Believe it or not, I can get more metal value playing around for three hours in one of my local creeks in Southern Oregon than spending the time it would take to get an equivalent amount out of electronics.  The process of electronics extraction is nasty as heck, too.”
      Oh, I FULLY believe it, FW.   Southern OR is gold country and many of the smaller creeks and streams have “color” in the sandbars and beaches.  You pan or use a sluice box?
      Also agree on electronics recovery.  Too many incompatible chemistries there to be either neat or clean.  The folks who do that use lots of nasty solvents, including aqua regia, which dissolves just about everything but glass and some plastics.  Hydrofluoric acid even dissolves glass, so back in the old days they used to line glass bottles with wax to contain it.

    • @Ed_B:  I’ve been bitten by the gold bug pretty hard.  I’ve got a 2″ dredge, pans, a “blue bowl,” sluice and other tools of the trade.  It’s great fun being out in nature and I’d love doing it even if I didn’t find gold.  But I’m now getting pretty good at it. Aqua Regia can be handy with some of the ore I find but I haven’t gotten enough ore yet to want to mess with the stuff.  I’ve made tiny batches of it to experiment, however.
      Want to see something amazing?  This guy found a 4oz gold nugget in the Rouge River about 40 miles from where I live.   That’s super rare for the Rouge.  

    • @Flying Wombat:  Sounds as if you are pretty well equipped for some excellent gold hunting.  Best of luck with that.
      “Want to see something amazing?  This guy found a 4oz gold nugget in the Rouge River about 40 miles from where I live.   That’s super rare for the Rouge.”
      That is an impressive chunk of gold!  Excellent job to the gentleman in the video for finding it.  But… would that be the world famous Rogue River?  If so, that is some really excellent fishing water.  🙂
      I like closer to the Kalama, Wind, Washougal, and Klickitat rivers.  🙂

  3. So there is less than 0.0012 oz of gold in rich gold ore?  Something is fishy here.  People sell CPUs by the kilo on ebay for gold extraction, and they don’t get much money for it.  The extraction process is expensive and hazardous.  Like Flying Wombat said, the recycling prices are because the phones are resold, not because they extract the elements from them.

  4. The real issue with iPhones (and other cell phones) is the lost opportunity for Americans.
    We sent millions of decent-paying electronic-manufcturing jobs overseas and now have a huge problem in that rather than replacing these jobs, we are unsuccessfully trying to paper over the huge void in the job market with printed fiat, credit, and low-wage service jobs.
    This is a national tragedy. 

    • “This is a national tragedy.”
      Yes, it is.   It is also a national disgrace and a 1st class example of political incompetence at both the highest and lowest levels.

    • @Ed_B:  But it’s not 100% political incompetence.  There are many within the political establishment that DESIGNED the policies, trade liberalization agreements and regulatory reforms necessary to enable the exodus, and the same people profited from it.  This wasn’t just a product of corporations responding to economic signals.  It’s not an example of a total and complete conspiracy either, as some would posit.  It’s somewhere in the middle.

  5. “But it’s not 100% political incompetence.”
    Agreed.  I was just taking some time off from the usual rant.  😉
    “This wasn’t just a product of corporations responding to economic signals.”
    I’m sure that varies by corporation.  The one for which I worked had no clue about any of the stuff that is regularly cussed and discussed on SD and other alternative info sites.  My guess is that SOME corporations are in it up to their eyeballs while others are just trying to do business and survive… like many of us.

    • @Ed_B: The politicos and policy makers (and the oligarchy pushing them around) changed trade law, regulations and so on, picking up steam from the 1980s onward with GATT and liberalization of the financial services industry and other key industries. This changed economic signals. Corporations responded after rules were changed (and yes, they were shaping the rule changes too). See my point? Two messages above you noted that political incompetence was partly to blame. By definition, at least when it came to the establishment of the system that incentivzied corporations to offshore labor, etc., incompetence among political leaders had little to do with these developments.

      You could fairly argue that incompetence after the fact existed among political leaders, combined with a lack of vision, guts, and a desire to not go in directions against personal interest (gasp! represent people/constituents, not corportations…). But even that argument isn’t easy to make given how the history of all this evolved.

    • “See my point?”
      Clearly.  🙂
      “By definition, at least when it came to the establishment of the system that incentivzied corporations to offshore labor, etc., incompetence among political leaders had little to do with these developments.”
      Much of which seems clear enough via the results, however, it’s not as if there was a lot of documentation for it.

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