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Mobile Phones and Recycling

Are you done with that old cell phone you have been using for a couple of years? Before you throw it away, listen to this! First you should look at the metals inside the cell phone. There could be gold, silver, copper, and many other kinds of metals inside. Some of these metals are at near-record prices, so it could get you a pretty penny! This is called "urban mining" which is where you look through old electronics products to search for valuable gems like iridium or gold.

This system is a growing industry world-wide as the prices of such metals are rising. The recycled materials can be used in the production of new electronic items and the gold and other metals are collected and sold separately to jewellers, speculators, and manufacturers, who use gold as a conductor in the production of circuit boards for mobile phones. Did you know that discarded mobile phones yield more than 30 times the amount of gold yielded from one gold mine? Research conducted by Yokohama Metal reveals that a tonne of ore from a gold mine produces a mere 5g of gold on average, while a tonne of discarded mobile phones yield 150g or more. In addition, the same volume discarded mobile phones produces approximately 100kg of copper and 3kg of silver, as well as a number of other metals. The recycling of mobile phones remains popular as metal prices hit an all time high. In the US, gold trades for roughly $890 an ounce, after hitting a historic high of $1,030.

80 in March. Not only has the price of gold hit a record high; copper, tin, and silver prices are also well above long-term averages. In Japan, they use recycled electronics because there are plenty of old electronics such as cell phones and other gadgets that are tossed away by consumers annually that can be used to feed the billion dollar electronics industry. They don't have enough natural resources to constantly make new electronics. First, the recycled electronics and other gadgets are sorted into different groups and disassembled by hand. Then, it is placed in chemicals that dissolve unneeded materials, and then, the metal that is left is refined.

The environmental industry struggles to get enough old cell phones for their recycling plants, despite a growing interest in the environment and recycling. In Japan, the 128 million people average a cell phone use of two years and eight months. Thus, many cell phones are discarded every year, but only 10 to 20% of phones are recycled because people would rather store them in their cupboards to keep the personal data on their phones from being violated. Only 558 tons of old phones were collected to be recycled in the year to March 2007. This is down a third from three years ago, according to industry figures.

With metal prices on the rise, the Japanese industry encounters a growing competition for scrap, raising prices for all. Some companies in Japan are importing previously-used circuit boards from Singapore and Indonesia, due to the fact that they contain valuable minor metals that are particularly desirable to Japan. Indium, one of these minor metals, is a crucial ingredient in flat panel televisions and computer screens. Antimony and bismuth are vital for producing an array of high-tech products. Due to the fact that China's export controls are tightened, these metals are difficult to obtain, which subsequently make it more difficult for Japanese manufactures to acquire them. That is where the urban miners come into play.

Maria is a journalist interested in mobile phone recycling and Envirofone



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