Your old phone is a veritable gold mine

– Most of us have way
more unused electronics than we think we do. Seriously, go through your desk,
your closets, your toolbox, and pull out anything with a power cord or a battery that you’re not using. Pile it all up and you might be shocked. The average family has 80
pieces of electronic waste lying around their home. That’s a lot of clutter
we just don’t need. But it also means that your
house is a literal goldmine. We just have to do the mining. We produce a lot of electronics, which means that all of this tech is quickly becoming the
fastest-growing source of garbage on the planet. And the term e-waste refers to all of it, from your first iPhone
to your first laptop to even your electric toothbrush. The list goes on and on. E-waste is such a challenge to process because it contains so many materials: plastics, metals, and some of it’s toxic. But it’s also a big
opportunity for recycling because a cell phone like this one contains a few rare
and valuable materials. A big one is gold, and it’s found in a lot of electronics because it’s highly conductive and it doesn’t corrode very easily. So, you tend to find gold
coating on pins and plugs and printed on circuit boards. But there’s also copper, silver, lead, and palladium in there. It’s not much per device. But as e-waste piles up, the amount of reclaimable
metals in there piles up too. And then there was this study,
published earlier this year, and it made a pretty wild claim. Recovering metals like gold from e-waste is now more efficient than
digging it up out of the earth. Angela Chen covered
this story for The Verge and she explained how that’s possible. – So, we have the Earth and, on average, there’s about half a gram
of gold in one ton of earth. Now, of course, there are gold mines in various places on the Earth. There, if you have one ton of earth, you get about five or six grams, which is about the weight
of kind of a large ring. And when it comes to
e-waste and mobile phones, the number’s much higher. So, say you have a ton of mobile phones. There’s actually 350
grams of gold in there, and that’s a lot higher even than one of the
gold mines on the Earth. – [Cory] The beauty of
metals like gold is that no matter what process you
subject them to in manufacturing, they’re not going to change. Gold is still gold,
whether it’s been bonded onto a circuit board or dug out of a rock. – I think that, just for
lack of a better term, metals are natural. But most of the time, we’ve
been doing metalworking for thousands of years and we already know that to cast them in the
first place, they’re liquid. So, to melt them back, it’s a state that they’ve already been in. – [Cory] But there are a
couple of roadblocks here. One is that e-waste needs to enter the recycling ecosystem to be processed, and clearly lots of it never does. – And, I think, for most
of us, we’re nostalgic. We have these feelings
associated with them. What if our current MacBook
breaks and we’re so dependent, will we just need to use an old one? And that makes it harder for us to let go. – [Cory] And even if e-waste
makes it out of your house, it’s got a long road ahead. You need a very specialized process to separate the valuable stuff from the worthless stuff
from the hazardous stuff. Verge reporter Andy Hawkins
followed some e-waste through a huge recycling center in Massachusetts a while back and he came back with some
pretty intense photos. – So, either you live in a city that has dedicated e-waste pickup, which are few and far between, or you have to actually
drop off your e-waste at a dedicated recycling center. Either way, the e-waste is collected and it’s shipped to a sorting facility, where it’s separated in
terms of the types of e-waste that you’re talking about. So, whether you’re talking about laptops, flat-screen televisions,
smartphones, drones, cameras, all that stuff has to be separated out into their own separate piles. And then those piles are then transported to a bigger recycling center,
where they’re just destroyed. I mean, they’re just ripped apart, smashed into tiny little
bits, shredded, most likely, so that you can separate sort
of the recyclable material, things like gold and aluminum, from the stuff that just
needs to get discarded and thrown into the waste stream, like plastic and wood
and things like that. – That’s just the fate of e-waste that stays in the United States. But, sadly, most of it doesn’t. The United States is the only
developed country in the world that hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export
of e-waste to other nations. So, legally or otherwise,
lots of our e-waste ends up in developing countries like India, China, and South Africa. – So, it’s an incredible toxic process, breaking down a lot of this e-waste, and I think that that’s why you’re seeing a lot of this shifting to overseas and to countries that are poorer and have less regulatory
and government oversight. There have reports about
mountains of discarded electronics that have been building up in
countries like China and India and it’s poisoning the water,
it’s poisoning the land, and it’s leading to a lot
of environmental concerns and health concerns amongst the
people, especially children, that live near these mountains
of discarded electronics. – So, look, there’s a lot of opportunity and need for e-waste recycling, but it’s a dangerous and tedious process. And reclaiming all that
gold will take a lot more than us just emptying our closets. But empty your closets anyways. Recycle your old electronics. You’ll be amazed to find
what you have laying around. Hey everyone, if you liked this video, be sure to check out and subscribe to our brand-new Verge
Science YouTube channel, where we’re putting out
a new video every week. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Your old phone is a veritable gold mine

  1. Note: One ton of cell phones is over 8,000 for the 11 or so oz of gold and hundreds of pounds of toxic waste after your time, sweat, and expenses. How many hours just to touch 8 thousand things just once and drop them let alone dissemble and process them. The other waste has way less gold. And mining gold is a price issue, not plenty of gold to sell issue. Copper is a lot more dire.

  2. Oh look, another gloom and doom video on yt. Let's face it, human beings are the most toxic things on the planet. Want to save the planet? Eliminate humans.

  3. I only gave it a thumbs down because gold is not that rare! We mine somewhere between 2,500-3,000 metric tons each year. Look at all the gold that once covered ancient Egypt!! Try selling that old junk to a company that has the ability to separate the metals in a phone and show that!! There isn’t enough in just a few to make it worth it! Besides, the layer of gold on the parts that need it is so thin because it was added via electrical attraction…so they can use as little as possible! I know because I was with someone who worked for Tyco Electronics!

  4. Liked the video. But what is the point of recycling electronics that will negatively impact the environment. Its simply displace the electronic, not helping as of yet. Were as in the closet the electronic was not polluting anything but closet volume.

  5. Good video, but it kinda falls short.

    First of all, harvesting gold from electronics only makes sense if you ignore the extremely toxic and dangerous chemicals you have to use in order to extract an extremely tiny bit of gold and rare materials in each piece of electronic.
    To give an idea, you can take 311 grams of gold… out of a ton, or 10000 smartphones.
    Half that ammount of gold for 200 laptops.
    Your old phones can be considered veritable gold mines at the most strict sense – you need a ton of material to receive and extremely toxic and harsh chemical process to extract miniscule ammounts of gold. You actually can get more gold per ton of material out of electronics compared to mining, but the process and chemicals needed are all worse than even regular mining. So, I dunno how that study mentioned was produced, but no, it still does not make sense to take gold out of electronics compared to regular mining.

    Then you consider man hours, extremely toxic and expensive chemicals, a super complex process and the fact that you'll end up with almost the same final ammount of trash that is now also toxic requiring special disposing processes…. it makes zero sense to do it on small to medium scale. At big scale it's not happening because of the potential ecological disaster it could produce. If it could be done in a profitable way, companies would be doing if for decades now. This is the type of thing that absolutely needs governmental interference, incentives, regulation, laws to support and whatnot. Which is pretty hard to do when you have a backwards thinking government.

    The trash is exported and then part of it mined in a similar way that some people go eat and try to find something in landfills to profit from. Extremely poor people who are paid almost nothing for their work and are already trapped in hellish conditions. By US standards, the places that this is happening in those countries – China, India and whatnot, would be all considered superfund sites. People in those places will rarely live past their 30s.

    The better way for old electronics and broken ones is exactly not to toss them into the garbage or send it to recycling centers. If you can fix it, do it and keep using for as long as possible. If you can't, try to sell it or give it up to someone who can. Depending on what it is, you can even sell or give it up to collectors. It's still better for it to become a museum piece or something like that than being discarded.
    The best way to deal with this is to extend the life of electronics for as long as possible, then when it's completely broken let useful parts of it be harvested and put to use, and then finally when there is nothing that can be used there anymore, only then it goes to recycling. Recycling and trash are last case scenarios.

    Optimal scenario given current limitations is that end consumers with no knowledge or will to fix electronics or make use of parts should not be throwing that stuff in the trash… it should go through a long process of trying to make use of everything in it until it has to go to the trash because nothing there can be used for anything.

    For smartphones, laptops and desktops, see if you can find local repair shops that can make use of parts. Maker spaces might also accept it depending on what it is. Let them discard the stuff if they can't make use of it.

  6. You can ether use acid to extract the gold from circuit boards or pcb's. Or you can just remove any and all circuit boards from the device and turn them into any scrap metal yard that's except s e-waist. And get money for them. Not much. But it is good for us all to do so. Instead of it all ending up in a landfill. Or worse yet. Burned in an incinerator to generate electricity. Since the ash is collected in the end from scrubbers and incinerator then dumped on the landfill as backfill. Which if everybody threw everything in the trash. Can have mercury from thermostat s and even nuclear waist from household items like smoke detectors. Which we all end up then breathing into our lungs.

  7. I had the idea a while ago that if anybody wants to upgrade their phone they first HAVE to recycle their current/old phone first. How that would be enforced? Either in an autocratic manner (i.e give us your phone or you cant have a new one) or to further emphasize a 'trade in' value. I dunno, just thinking of the environment n that…

  8. Its too bad this video doesn't mention Mineworx or Enviroleach who happen to be the companies that are a joint venture and who have the solution to the Ewaste problem. Check them out, this is gonna be huge.

  9. If the e-waste does not take up too much room and we do not yet have adequate recycling in US, why not just hang onto it until we do?

  10. "The stuff that just needs to be thrown into the waste stream like plastic and wood" I work in a plastics factory and last time I checked it was recyclable. 🤔

  11. 350grams of gold per ton of e-waste is what the text says, 350grams of gold per ton of mobile phones is what the reporter says. Kind of a big difference….

  12. Am i the only one here who bothered by how he speak? I mean that low and hoarse tone make me hard to understand some words
    *no offense

  13. Who tf would recycle a PlayStation 1, iPhone 3g and iPod classic, those are worth way more then the golf inside them, and they are also cool to have

  14. Seems like if e-waste has such a high potential value, consumers ought to be able to get a little compensation for turning electronics in, as in states like California, Hawaii, and Maine that pay you for recycling your beverage containers.

  15. So for every six pounds there is a gram of gold gtfo😡🙈🙉🙊🔥💀💩💩💩💩👊👊👊👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎👎

  16. this is a huge reason why goodwill in the pacific northwest of the united states increased their “non profit” profits.
    e-waste recycling has been a game changing money maker for them. stuff that doesn’t sell in their retail stores gets shipped to their outlets. electronics are broken down to base components and put into big containers weighing around 1000lbs. keyboards have a mylar sheet inside full of silver, cords are cut off as they are just copper essentially.
    it went from paying someone to haul away the junk, to doing some minor work and making more per item recycled than they get selling the working item in stores.
    this is where the line gets blurry.
    the rules state that every donation must be made available to be bought, but a lot of things are now being funneled directly to their recycling centers to be dismantled and sold for their raw materials.

  17. To make any money you would need thousands of phones. I know iv been doing it for 20 years. .i have 50 lbs of the gold material. Realistically you get 6.9 grams for every 4 pounds. Of pins.

  18. So if I get rid of my old electronics like you say, won't that mean that they will most likely end up in poor and undeveloped countries and pollute heir country even more??? What exactly is the message here???

  19. If i send it to get recycled how can I be sure that it won't be sent out of the US to contaminate other parts of our world.

  20. All you have to do is melt it all down into one big glob of metal only. Then transport the glob back to somewhere where that metal can then be re-melted and have all metals separated out and make big ingot-thingys of the gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin, lead, steel, aluminum and super-marios (coz they're indestructable) – hey! And then you are rich beyond belief.

  21. If i were you, i would still use every thing and not "recycle" them for gold, tech is vey valuable.


  23. Gee…. Wonder why one of those uber wealthy enviro wackos like Tom Steyr for instance, Doesn't make a huge ewaste facility, create an easy way to ship stuff there, and take care of the problem? I guess blathering on about "Another Enviro Cris" helps get loser liberals elected heh?

  24. The message they forgot to drive home is stop buying new tv's/laptops every year because of the massive environmental impact.

  25. Actually, I have a friend who literally became a millionaire doing this, then he established a waist mngt company and became a billionaire. vualá are in the 1%

  26. I Scrap e-Waste as a business in Florida. All of the material is valuable. I waste nothing. Everything gets separated. Metal gets melted, Plastic and Glass go to the recycler. Circuit boards are stripped, and the resulting materials are sorted. Even Precious Metal extraction can be done with safer methods that use electricity instead of acids. The plastics can be burned for energy if the fumes are trapped and scrubbed. Or they can be pyrolized and used for other materials. All of that material is valuable. It is important to sort like materials together and process them correctly. Unfortunately, it is definitely minimum-wage work.

  27. So it is a lie. If electronic waste is more profitable then a gold mine (like 70 times more) why the waste is exported? If a gold mine can stay in business at current gold prices, those who recycle e-waste should be extremely rich.

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