Electronic waste is a growing problem across the globe, and it’s not hard to see why.
How many times have you updated your phone to a slicker and slimmer model as soon as it came out, or upgraded your laptop or iPad once the old one started to slow?
Hidden among all of these electronics are a literal minefield of rare minerals, and an exciting new way to recycle.
What minerals are found in electronic waste?
Depending on the piece of tech, there are small amounts of things like gold, silver, palladium, rhodium, platinum, and tellurium found inside our tech gear.
However, it’s not as simple as taking your phone apart and striking it rich, as the recycling of these products involves a whole lot more.
We’re going to look inside the common pieces of electronic waste and what’s found inside them, to show you why it’s so important to recycle them.
The issue of e-waste is a growing one for all countries, but one that requires a safe and economical solution, so it’s been the major point of focus for those in the recycling industry.
Once you see exactly what’s inside your humble cell phone or laptop, you’ll begin to understand why.
- 1 What Is E-Waste and Where Does It Go?
- 2 Why the Increase in e-Waste?
- 3 Rare Minerals Found in Electronic Waste Materials
- 4 The Possibilities of E-Waste Resources
- 5 Related Questions
What Is E-Waste and Where Does It Go?
Electronic waste refers to any piece of electronic product that’s been thrown away and it can encompass the smallest MP3 player to the largest computer system.
Americans own approximately 24 electronic products for each household and have spent an estimated $71 billion on just communication gear in 2019, one of the largest consumers in the world.
Every time one of these pieces of tech needs to be upgraded, it breaks, or makes its way to the garbage pile, another piece of e-waste is made.
Up until recently, China was the place where most countries sent their electronic waste, but after banning 24 types of solid waste from being sent there, America and the rest of the world had to look for somewhere to put theirs.
All of these old laptops, mobile phones, and tech gadgets invariably end up in landfills across the country, when really, they should be recycled.
Not only does recycling prevent them from taking up space in these landfills and doing harm to the planet, but it means we’re able to mine the small number of valuable resources and rare minerals found inside of them.
Why the Increase in e-Waste?
To understand why we’re seeing so much more electronic waste these days, all you have to do is look at your everyday life.
These days, technology is now a part of almost everything we do, and chips and sensors are being added to things that never had them before.
As a society, we spend a lot of money on electronics, and for most of us, owning a laptop, phone, and television is the very least of our belongings.
All members of the household have tech gadgets now, and not just the adults, so when you accumulate all of this and then think about the entire nation, you can see why we’re creating more electronic waste than we know what to do with.
The life span of these electronic devices is also decreasing which means we’re more likely to buy new ones.
Rather than having things fixed or sticking with an older model of phone for a while, we want the latest and greatest and have no problem throwing the old toys out if it means we can get a brand new, shiny one.
To put a stop to how much e-waste we create, it can help to understand what’s inside these gadgets that we so haphazardly throw away.
By getting inside the devices and seeing what it means to recycle them, we can reduce our e-waste problem and have a major impact on the planet, for the better.
Rare Minerals Found in Electronic Waste Materials
You might not realize it to look at them, but your everyday devices like laptops and cell phones are packed full of precious metals and rare materials.
Although they’re found on a minute scale, when you consider all of the millions of phones and gear that is thrown out each year, you see why recycling our e-waste is more important than ever.
Small pieces of gold are used to create phones and laptops and have a pretty significant amount when combined.
Although they’re full of precious metals, that’s not the reason they’re so expensive to buy, but a good justification to take their recycling seriously.
Just one ton of iPhones has the 300 times more gold than a ton of gold ore without any need to mine for it either.
Silver is another precious metal that’s plentiful in electronic waste and a far easier way of getting it is to recycle these gadgets, rather than mine for them.
A ton of iPhones has 6.5 times more silver than a ton of silver ore, and all that’s needed is the knowhow to recycle and reuse it.
Electronic waste has a large amount of copper inside, especially found in the circuit boards Recycling copper is far better for the environment and preserves our precious copper resources, without having to source it directly from the earth.
Palladium is used to make printed circuit boards, microprocessors, and LCD displays, so it’s plentiful in most of our electronics.
As a rare and beautiful silvery-white metal, being able to strip our tech gear of palladium without mining for it would be hugely beneficial for the earth.
Rhodium is a silver-white element that is considered rarer and more valuable than gold and silver, and it wastes a lot of resources to mine.
Rhodium is commonly used to make electronic contacts and is resistant to corrosion, so it’s extremely valuable, but also makes up a huge portion of our electronic waste.
One of the main applications of platinum is in electronics, and it can be found in just about every household tech item you have.
Platinum is more expensive than gold but mined less, with only 160 tons being mined each year, so anything we can do to reuse its fragments in e-waste is beneficial.
Tellurium is created as a byproduct of mining other things, namely copper ore, and it’s also common in the production of electronics.
Used to make photosensitive semiconductors and parts of solar panels, it can be easily stripped from e-waste and made new again, to reduce the amount of mining done to retrieve it.
The Possibilities of E-Waste Resources
While many states have already banned the placement of electronic waste into regular landfills, it’s still not enough.
Each state needs to define their dedicate e-waste recycling program and offer somewhere easy for people to take their tech gear once it’s no longer of use to them.
By implementing dedicated electronic waste recycling plants and mining these precious and rare metals from old gadgets, we can take a significant strain off the earth.
Not only does it prevent us from further mining into the ground, but it makes use of products that have already been produced, so we’re doing our part in more ways than one.
Something as simple as recycling laptops can have a huge effect, and if we recycled just one million of them, it would provide enough energy to power 3,500 homes a year.
With figures like this in mind, it’ll prompt us all to do our part, and give a second thought to what we do with our disposable electronics once they no longer serve us.
The rare minerals and resources mined from old electronics are just one part of why we should be doing our part to recycle them, helping the planet is the other.
Electronic waste is relatively new in the grand scheme of human consumption, so we’ve answered some questions about it to fill you in on the basics.
How Much Electronic Waste Is Made Each Year?
In the United States and Canada alone, each person creates roughly 20kg or 44lbs of electronic waste each year. This comprises of household technology like televisions, computers, and phones, but also kids’ toys and gadgets.
When multiplied for every citizen of these countries, it’s easy to see why e-waste has become such a huge problem.
How Do I Recycle My Old Phone?
There are a few options for recycling phones that don’t involve throwing them into the trash.
You can sell it a buyback shop that fixes broken phones or uses their parts, drop it at a recycling center that specializes in electronic waste, or trade it in for a discount on a new phone at participating stores.