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Billions in precious metal going to (e-)waste every year

Posted on Thursday, July 19 2012 @ 00:05:06 CEST by

UN-backed initiative Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) calculated that at current rates of production, $16 billion (or 320 tons) in gold and $5 billion (7500 tons) in silver are put into computers, tablets, smartphones and other consumer electronics annually. Unfortunately, very little of the huge amount of e-waste is properly recycled, StEP estimates that less than 15 percent of these valuable metals are recovered from electronic waste. Full details at ARS Technica.
The result is that, collectively, refuse sites are effectively sitting on precious and valuable metal "deposits" worth billions of dollars. StEP points to the steady and extremely rapid growth in the price of gold in the decade up to 2011—from $300/ounce to $1500/ounce—despite a 15 percent increase in supply in that period. The values of silver, copper, tin, and to a lesser extent palladium (all used in the manufacture of electronics devices), are also markedly higher today than 10 years ago. Hence, e-waste itself is an ever more valuable, and therefore tradeable, commodity.

Increasingly, e-waste is exported from developed to developing nations, particularly in Asia and Africa, where the cost of processing it is lower. But the efficiency of that processing is lower in those locations. StEP claims that, in developing nations, 50 percent of the gold in e-waste is lost due to "crude dismantling processes" and only 25 percent of the remainder is recoverable due to the rudimentary technology to hand. In contrast, 25 percent of gold is lost to electronics dismantling in developed nations, and modern facilities are able to recover 95 percent of the rest.



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