What is e waste?

The term “electronic waste” (e waste) is a bit of a misnomer. It refers to electronic devices such as cell phones computers, and televisions that are thrown away when the user no longer wants it because it is broken, unusable, outdated or obsolete. Although these devices are electronic, they are not necessarily waste since almost 100% of e waste can be recycled. 

Is e waste a problem?

Heck yes! According to the United Nations’ Global E-waste Monitor report, USA alone creates approximately 10 million tonnes of e waste annually and over 50 million tonnes of e waste is created globally each year. That is around 96 tonnes of e waste produced every minute!
Hordes of tech hungry consumers wanting the latest and best devices means that the amount of e waste will continue to grow each year.Sadly, less than 20% of the world’s e waste is recycled. 

What is urban mining?

Urban mining is the recovery of raw materials such as plastics, glass, and metals from e waste. Of particular interest is the recovery of gold and silver from e waste. 

How much gold is in a cell phone? How much gold is in a laptop?

As a ballpark estimate, there is 0.03 grams of gold in a cell phone and 0.7 grams of gold in a laptop. At a gold price of US $1500, that would equate to US $1.45 worth of gold in a cell phone and US $33.76 worth of gold in a laptop. These amounts are too small for individuals to profit from gold extraction from their own e waste. However, when conducted on a large scale, values of extractable precious metals can be significant. In every 1 million recycled cell phones 75 lbs. of gold and 772 lbs. of silver can be recovered. At current gold and silver prices that comes to over $1.64 million of gold and $200,000 of silver. That means that each year, Americans throw out cell phones containing over $60 million in gold and silver! 

Gold recovery techniques

How is e waste recycled?After manual sorting, the first step is to break down the devices by shredding them. Magnets are then used to remove iron and steel. Various techniques are then used to separate the remaining metals from glass and plastic.Methods used to extract gold from e waste include: 

  • Cyanide leaching
  • Acid extraction
  • Microbial extraction
  • Water based extraction

E waste mining vs gold mining

How does e waste mining (also known as urban mining) compare to traditional gold mining? A high quality gold mine has a grade of around 10 grams of gold per ton of ore and most mines have lower grades than this. In comparison, a ton of cell phones contains around 350g (10 oz) of gold.

OK, so there is a lot more gold per ton of e waste than there is per ton of ore. But what about the cost of extracting each oz of gold? Urban mining costs include waste collection, transport and processing. Here again, e waste mining beats traditional gold mining hands down.

For the average gold mining company, it costs approximately US $1000 to produce an oz of gold. For the average urban mining company, it costs approximately $50 to $70 to produce an oz of gold. There is therefore significant potential for profits in the urban mining sector. Could this be the next gold rush? 

Urban mining companies

Here are a couple of companies looking to profit from the boom in e waste recycling by providing low cost and environmentally friendly solutions for extracting gold from e waste.  

EnviroLeach Technologies Inc. (ETI:CSE; EVLLF:OTCQB)EnviroLeach Technologies extracts precious metals from ores & e waste using a proprietary environmentally friendly alternative to cyanide and acid. In fact the ingredients are FDA approved for human consumption!EnviroLeach Technologies claims to be the only commercial scale, economically viable and safe hydrometallurgical gold extraction process in the world. Indeed, on 30th Sept 2019, EnviroLeach announced that it successfully produced its first commercial gold bars with an average gold recovery of 96.6% and a leach time of less than 24 hours. 

EnviroLeach Technologies and Mineworx Technologies Ltd. (MWX:TSX.V; MWXRF:OTCQB) have formed a joint venture for E-waste processing. The role of Mineworx will be to provide its engineering design and fabrication capabilities and also grant EnviroLeach an exclusive license to use the patent pending HM X-Mill technology in all E-Waste processing solutions globally.

Mint Innovation is a New Zealand based company that has developed a pioneering biometallurgical process that utilises microbes to extract gold from e waste. Crushed and powdered e-waste will be supplied by New Zealand’s IT recycler Remarkit.Mint Innovation is still in the development phase and is not publicly traded at present. This is not financial advice and is not a recommendation for any of the companies mentioned.