Cell Phones' Other Precious Metals

July 9, 2010

There are literally billions of cell phones around the world, and millions of makes and models, so it is hard to give a blanket estimate on cell phone materials by weight and how they will break down. Yet data from a mobile takeback forum from 2005 suggests that the average phone is broken up by weight as follows:

To assume that cell phone composition hasn't changed in five years time would simply be incorrect. With pop-out QWERTY keyboards, full touch screens and the introduction of glass elements into some of today's smart phones, the plastics and ceramics numbers may have changed significantly. Still, a rough guess might estimate one-quarter of all phone materials are metals, and that is where the bulk of the value lies.

Sure, gold, copper and tin are the most sought-after and readily available commodities inside these phones, but elements such as palladium, silver and platinum are also common in mobile devices, and their value quickly snowballs.

A USGS mineral commodity summary suggests that a typical cell phone holds about 0.35 grams of silver, 0.015 grams of palladium and 0.0003 grams of platinum. Doesn't seem like much, right? Factor in the monetary values of each of those weights — 6 cents, 13 cents and 1 cent, respectively — and you come up with approximately 20 cents per typical phone. With approximately 500 million inactive cell phones just collecting dust, there is a value of nearly $100 million out there in inactive phones.

If the silver in these inactive phones was extracted, it would equal more than 10% of the amount of annually extracted silver recovered from scrap at U.S. recycling facilities. Though silver is the least valuable commodity of the three, it is the most common in a typical cell phone.

Platinum, on the other hand, is the most valuable commodity in cell phones (worth more than two times the value of gold at approximately $22/gram), yet is the least occurring precious metal in these devices.

Proper extraction of these materials in unused cell phones can significantly supplement virgin materials extracted from mining. Do your part, and recycle your old phone today!