Mining your iPhone: Recycling iPhones yields gold, silver, platinum, and more (infographic)

That iPhone in your hand isn’t just a complex piece of electronics. It’s also a gold mine — quite literally. And a platinum mine, silver mine, copper mine … you get the picture.

911 Metallurgist, which helps mines and recyclers extract precious metals from ore and, apparently, phones, has exhaustively checked the iPhones and other mobile devices. Each iPhone 5, for instance, contains $1.58 of gold, $.36 of silver, $.05 of platinum, and $.12 of copper.

Those numbers may sound small, but the phone holds from six to 300 times more precious metal than the equivalent amount of ore from a mine.

Also, in addition to the more familiar precious metals, smartphones also contain traces of huge swaths of the periodic table, particularly those “rare earths” that today’s electronics so depend on: Yttrium, Lanthanum, Neodymium, Gadolinium, and Europium, among others.

The problem?

“At the moment, there are no really good environmentally friendly methods available to mine and to recycle rare earths,” says Swedish University of Technology prof Christian Ekberg.

So less than one percent of the precious rare earths used in today’s phones are recycled — even though we appear to be running out of good sources for these vital materials.

Here are all the details, in visual form:


Cecila Ritz
Cecila Ritz

I never really gave much thought to electronics recycling, but all this information about recycling old phones is astounding! Now I suppose with the new iPhone expected to release later this year, I know just what I’m going to do with my old one! Take it down to the recycling center run by Sims in Jersey City along with the other metal scrap, as they’re not too far off and accept electronic scrap too.