“Mining” precious metals in cell phones

| September 23, 2013

That cell phone is a lot of things to you: calendar, method of communication, source of entertainment — but have you ever thought of it as a gold mine? If not, Indian company Attero wants you to start.

Believe it or not, there are trace amounts of precious metals in cell phones. (You knew there had to be a reason why they were so expensive!)

precious metals in cell phones

Cell phone circuit boards contain trace amounts of precious metals. From glycerine102.

Before you go cracking open your phone in hopes of making a necklace, keep in mind that the amounts are limited per phone — but they certainly add up. “Experts estimate that we can recover 550 lbs of silver, 50 lbs of gold, 20 lbs of palladium and 20,000 lbs of copper for every 1 million cell phones we recycle,” reports via

According to a recent article by Susan McPherson in Forbes Magazine, Attero’s founder Nitin Gupta recognizes the potential of large-scale cell phone recycling. It’s called “urban mining,” and the idea is catching on in a big way.

McPherson reports, “The idea behind Attero was to make the process of extracting the precious metals from electronics, including your old phones and computers, cheaper and more efficient. And closer to home.”

For Gupta, that meant a one-stop shop where cell phones are collected and processed. The precious metals can be found within the circuit boards of the cell phones. After extracting precious metals, Attero sells those materials to metal dealers and users. Those dealers recycle the precious metals into something usable.

“A bonus: the metals recycling process, if done properly, does nothing to degrade the quality of the metals extracted,” reports McPherson. That means that there is theoretically no limit to the number of times that the metals can be reused.

Attero was founded in 2008 and the process has proven successful in India. So successful, in fact, that Attero is expanding into the U.S.

precious metals in cell phones

Indian company Attero offers a “one-stop shop” for extracting metals from cell phone circuit boards. From Mauro Cateb.

This country offers an incredible market for Attero’s work. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, SC Johnson reports that “cell phones, on average, are used for less than 18 months” each, and “in America alone, more than 140 million cell phones will end up in a landfill this year.”

While cell phone metals extraction already takes place in the U.S., “right now most circuit boards collected in the U.S. are then sent to Europe, Asia and Canada for processing where the existing precious metals refineries are located. And many still end up as landfill fodder in the U.S.”

Adoption of the one-stop shop Attero model in the United States not only makes things simpler, but also significantly reduces the carbon footprint inherent in the existing process.

Plus, according to the article, “for only $2 million in construction cost and a 100,000 square feet warehouse, an ‘urban mining’ center that can process over 2,000 tons of circuit boards can be brought to a neighborhood near you.”

With ever-increasing amounts of electronic waste being produced in the U.S., efficient, sustainable, financially feasible solutions like the one offered by Attero are more valuable than ever.

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Category: Electronics

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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