Electronic devices consume tons of gold and silver each year. Most of it becomes garbage, land fill, along with the device. Recycling isn’t doing the job we hoped it would.

Annually over $21 billion in gold and silver is used to manufacture high tech PC’s, cell phones, tablets and other electronics world wide. A meager 15 percent of these metals are recovered. Dumping grounds for the electronics are 40 plus times richer in precious metals than ore than is mined out of the ground.

Last year, 320 tons or almost 8 percent of the world’s gold supply went into electronic or electrical products. More than 7,500 tons of silver met a similar fate. Although developed countries that actively recycle collect about 85 percent of their e-waste, developing countries have a much lower success rate. The recovery processes, whether in developed or developing countries, however leaves behind between 25 and 50 percent of the metals due to inefficient processes.

The world needs to recover more of the precious metals in discarded electronics

The world needs to recover more of the precious metals in discarded electronics

Although the price of gold is enticing, this is not a do-it-yourself project. Toxic or harmful chemicals are necessary when trying to extract gold from computer components. Cyanide and sulfuric acid are mentioned for starters. Mercury was used by the 49’ers in the California gold rush and continues in use today in developing nations. Tom’s Hardware has a brief DIY lesson with a disclaimer that it is a not-so-profitable as well as a don’t-try-this-at-home attempt to remove gold from numerous places on a motherboard, such as the IDE connectors, PCI Express slot, jumper pins, and DIMM slots.

In contrast to the limited success in recovering precious metals, a global recycling firm, MBA Polymers, gives an example of what they have accomplished in the plastics industry. Chris Slijkhuis explained that one ton of plastic created through recycling takes one tenth as much water and energy as new plastic and produces one to three tons less of carbon dioxide (CO2), known as the malevolent green house gas. Alexis Vandendaelen of Umicore Precious Metals Refining in Belgium said, "Rather than looking at e-waste as a burden, we need to see it as an opportunity,"

"We need to recover rare elements to continue manufacturing IT products, batteries for electric cars, solar panels, flat-screen televisions and other increasingly popular products," said Dr. Kuehr of the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany. He also pointed out that unrecovered e-waste carries potential environmental and health hazards. Other metals used in networking equipment, circuit boards and other electronics include copper, palladium, platinum, and lesser known materials ruthenium and iridium.

Several organizations are attempting to improve the commercial situation through education and cooperation between industry and government. The GeSI and StEP e-Waste Academy is one such effort. GeSI (Global e-Sustainability Initiative ) promotes technologies that foster sustainable development. StEP is a partnership of several United Nations organizations, prominent industry, government and international organizations, NGOs and the science sector. StEP initiates and facilitates sustainable e-waste handling through analysis, planning and pilot projects. NVMP Association (Netherlands Association for the Disposal of Metal and Electrotechnical Products) represents six product associations with more than 1500 member manufacturers and importers. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is the specialized agency of the United Nations mandated to promote industrial development and global industrial cooperation.