The world's electronic waste, in 2021 alone, weighed 57 million tons, Victoria Gill of BBC wrote in her article with reference to one study. Experts say precious metals in the world have decreased significantly due to mining activities. They predict that precious minerals will decrease significantly and even deplete in next 100 years. The recycling of e-waste is seen as a viable solution to this situation.
Smartphones contain around 30 different elements, some of which the Earth is running out of. Some of these elements are also used in other technologies. All the while, the amount of electronic waste generated around the world is growing by about two million tons every year. Less than 20% of it is collected and recycled.
Many electronic devices, from large household appliances to mobile phones and vending machines, generate e-waste. Experts say the unwanted electronic devices should be taken to recycling centers instead of throwing them away because they contain toxic substances.
Every smartphone contains precious metals including gold, silver, copper, platinum and palladium. These precious metals are more important today than ever, as one day it will not be possible to mine them.
For example, a typical iPhone is estimated to contain around 0.034 grams of gold, 0.34 grams of silver, 0.015 grams of palladium and less than one-thousandth of a gram of platinum. It also houses the less valuable but still significant aluminium (25 grams) and copper (around 15 grams).
Smartphones also contain a range of rare earth elements, including yttrium, lanthanum, terbium, neodymium, gadolinium and praseodymium.
The precious metal in a single phone may not mean anything economically. But the sum that will come out of million phones is really worth a fortune. One million mobile phones could deliver nearly 16 tons of copper, 350 kilograms of silver, 34 kilograms of gold and 15 kilograms of palladium. Moreover, the concentration of these elements in a mobile phone is much higher than their concentration in an equivalent weight of ore. For example, the amount of gold in a ton of iPhone contains 300 times more gold than a ton of gold ore, and 6.5 times more silver than the same weight of silver ore.
The number of people with smartphones in the world is about two billion. These people upgrade to a new phone on average every 11 months. This means that two billion phones are wasted every year alone. E-wastes, especially telephones, cause serious damage to the environment as well as to the economy. Experts advise that the activities of waste collection and recycling centers should be intensified in order to prevent such waste.
PhD Candidate at Marmara University's Department of Political Science and International Relations in Istanbul, Turkey