How Many Precious Metals Are in Your Home Electronics?

August 27, 2015


Take a second look at your cellphone, your tablet and any other electronic device in your home for that matter. If you know how many precious metal are found in your home electronics, you know that second look could literally be worth its weight in gold.

More and more consumers are finding out that home electronics are capable of a multifunctionality that goes beyond digital speed and storage space in the cloud. Some are cashing in on the fact that a good number of trusted familiar gadgets actually house several dollars’ worth of precious metals, such as gold, silver, cadmium and even platinum.

So just how much precious metal do you have gathering dust at home, and more importantly, what’s the best way to take advantage of the possible gold mine at your fingertips?

Urban Mining Reality Check

First, it might be necessary to insert a proverbial reality check at this point. The truth is, the amount of gold and silver found in a typical home electronic unit is at most paltry. The average home electronic contains just milligrams of valuable precious metals. However, the real cash-in value comes when that tiny amount is multiplied across thousands of units.

It just so happens we as consumers have thousands of units literally at our disposal. Around the globe, the amount of home electronics ready to be trashed, and being trashed, is definitely skyrocketing, and governments, organizations and educators alike are taking note of the crisis. Cell phones alone are being produced at an amazing pace. In 2007, 1.2 billion cell phones were produced globally.

The key is to remember that with the mass proliferation of electronic devices also comes the massive buildup of electronic waste. It’s e-waste that can easily end up as a huge burden on the environment if each unit is not discarded properly.

In addition to the valuable precious metals found in electronics, they also contain a large number of hazardous materials that are capable of seeping into the environment, causing damage that can cost millions of dollars to reverse.

This means the key ingredient to maximizing the obvious potential of electronic waste is proper recycling and extraction - and lots of it.

How Recycling Addresses the Precious Metals in Your Home Electronics

The way that much of the precious metal in electronics are retrieved is through a process very much related to recycling called extraction. Extraction involves the use of a number of chemical or organic solvents to separate the metal from the less desirable parts of the unit.

This process is a highly dangerous one and requires tons of safety measures, especially when chemicals such as cyanide are used.

The recycling and extraction process are so related they easily go hand-in hand. Recycling breaks the end-of-life device into a smaller parts that can then undergo extraction conveniently and safely, and on a large scale.

Precious Metals Found in Your Home Electronics

So, just what kind of value can you get out of recycling and extracting precious metals from your home electronics devices? According to a UN report, the average cell phone handset contains about 24 milligrams of gold. Again, it’s an amount that’s a little more than negligible, taken singly. Multiply that number times, say the production levels for 2007 - 1.2 billion handsets - and things begin to get a little more interesting. Gold is one of the most recognizable of the precious metals found in electronics. It’s well-known as one of the best conductors of electricity on the planet, so its use in electronic devices large and small comes as no surprise. Gold is used in the wiring and in circuitry of motherboards, tablets and mobile handsets as well as across much of the home electronics playing field.

Silver is yet another well-known precious metal found in home electronics. It’s used in membrane switches, printed circuit boards RFID tags, CDs, DVDS and even plasma display panels. Another precious metal platinum, and its similar, but less expensive cousin, palladium, can also be found in home electronics. Like gold and silver, these metals are excellent conductors and are also extremely durable.

Cadmium and mercury, two precious metals perhaps best known for their detrimental effects on natural environments, can also be found in home electronics. Cadmium has been used significantly in lithium ion batteries but is currently being phased out of use due to its toxicity (it’s a known carcinogen).

Mercury can be found in almost all home electronics, as well as in a number of home appliances. It’s also extremely hazardous to the environment. In fact, mercury buildup in rivers, lakes and oceans around the world have been a special cause for concern among environmentalists and activists alike since the 1970s. This makes the mining of mercury from electronics a wise choice for retrieving and reusing the toxic metal rather than leaving it to contaminate the environment.

Getting the Precious Metals Found in Your Home Electronics

Equipped with the knowledge that there’s serious value from precious metals hidden in your home electronics devices, you may be tempted to attempt extracting these metals yourself. However, the extraction process can be extremely dangerous and is best left to the experts.

There is one way to get in on the benefits of retrieving precious metal from electronics. Buy-back programs offered through a number of retailers help consumers cash-in on the value of precious metal and other recoverables found in electronics through electronics recycling. Best Buy and Staples are currently two leaders in the buy-back movement, but also check with your local recycling center as well.

The precious metals noted here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the plethora of precious metals found in your home electronics. A whole host of others exist, and interesting efforts all over the world are taking place to finally close the loop on this sustainable source in ways that protect, rather than pollute, our precious natural resources and environment.