Specialty metals recycler Umicore uses grams per tonne of gold to illustrate the potential for urban mining of e-waste.
|Ore||PC Circuit Boards||Cell Phones|
|~5 g/t Au||200-250 g/t Au||300-350 g/t Au|
Umicore's June 2011 presentation also shows the amount of silver, gold, palladium, and copper in the annual global production of cell phones and PCs, as well as the cobalt in their lithium-ion batteries. For example, Unicore puts the palladium for a year's production of these devices at 36 tonnes, consuming ~16% of all palladium mined.
Jack Lifton of Technology Metals Research wrote back in 2008, "When the production of the base metals zinc, aluminum, and copper is reduced due to a slowdown in the world's economy the supply of new cadmium, germanium, indium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, molybdenum, and rhenium is also reduced…If the recession goes on long enough so that stocks of the critical minor metals run out, because of reduced or nonproduction of their base metal carriers there will be a panic and recycling from the currently uneconomical low concentrations of these 'technology-critical' minor metals in trash and personal electronics scrap may become necessary." Are we at that point, yet?
We may be getting close. Noting that the "United Nations Environment Program suggests that one metric ton of e-waste from personal computers contains more gold than that recovered from 17 metric tons of gold ore," GBI Research forecast in 2013 that the "the global e-waste recovery market across all geographies...is anticipated [to] reach $44.3 billion in 2020."
See Vertatique's count of the over 17 billion pieces of edge gear attached to our global ICT infrastructure and learn how many materials in our e-gear play central roles in the problems of conflict minerals and resource insecurity.