What office equipment contains precious metals? Hint: The global value can be counted in billions of dollars. 

The best place to go on a treasure hunt just may be your office or factory floor. Consider this fact, for instance: One metric ton of circuit boards can contain 40 to 800 times the amount of gold and 30 to 40 times the amount of copper mined from one metric ton of ore in the US.

In that light, consider also that each year 320 tons of gold and more than 7,500 tons of silver go into the manufacturing of new electronic products around the world. This means the value of precious metals in these devices tops $21 billion. A sliver of that massive amount is likely sitting right in your workplace, hidden within your laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, test and lab equipment, IoT technology, data centers, and more. 

Treating e waste like an urban mine

If you have ever asked yourself what office equipment contains precious metals, the answer is close to, “Look around and take your pick.” End-of-life electronic devices are an unquestionably rich source of precious metals. 

Much of what many label electronic  “waste” is, in fact, not waste at all. Rather, it consists of electronic equipment or parts that electronic recyclers can remarket for reuse or recycle for materials recovery. 

What precious metals are and how they are used in electronics

Precious metals are metals that are rare and have a high economic value. The four primary precious metals are gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. Properties like corrosion resistance and hardness have made them essential for electronic devices. 

Gold, for example, has for decades played a leading role in the electronics sector. Pliable and noncorrosive, unlike other highly conductive materials, it can easily be drawn into narrow wires or plated into thin coatings. Silver, on the other hand, has the highest electrical conductivity of all metals (copper is second), making it an ideal choice for solder, electrical contacts, and printed circuit boards. Finally, palladium and platinum are used in applications like electrode coating to help control the flow of electricity. 

Multiplied by millions of devices, the weight of precious metals adds up. One million cellphones contain 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium, underscoring the incredible value of recycling your retired electronics. 

So, what exactly are the components and parts that hold valuable base or precious metals that an electronic recycler can help recover?

 Let’s take a look:

  • Gold – Printed Circuit Boards, Computer Chips (CPU), connectors/fingers
  • Silver – Printed Circuit Boards, Computer Chips, keyboard membranes, some capacitors
  • Platinum – Hard Drives, Circuit board components
  • Palladium – Hard Drives, Circuit board components (capacitors)
  • Copper – CPU heat sinks, wiring and cables, Printed Circuit Boards, Computer Chips
  • Nickel – Circuit board components
  • Tantalum – Circuit board components (some capacitors)
  • Cobalt – Hard Drives
  • Aluminum – Printed Circuit Boards, Computer Chips, Hard Drives, CPU heat sinks
  • Tin – Printed Circuit Boards, Computer Chips
  • Zinc – Printed Circuit Boards
  • Neodymium – Hard Drives (magnets)

What pieces generally have the most precious metal value by weight?

  1. Computer CPU’s (processors) 
  2. Memory (RAM) & Circuit Board Fingers 
  3. Connectors/Pins
  4. Circuit Boards (Motherboards)
  5. Cables/wires
  6. Hard drives and whole computers 

Too much not recycled 

Yet, despite growing awareness of the importance of electronics recycling and IT asset disposition, retired electronics far too often end up in landfills and incinerators. In 2019, a conservative estimate of recoverable materials, including precious metals, that were mostly dumped or burned around the globe reached $57 billion. It’s a sum greater than the GDP for most countries. 

At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports the rate of selected consumer electronics recycling is approximately 38%. (“selected” includes products such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, video cameras, stereo systems, telephones and computer equipment)

The loss is not only counted in billions of dollars of wasted materials, the environment pays a high price too. Production of materials from virgin sources yields a much larger carbon footprint than recovering metals (and plastics) through recycling. 

Let’s build a green, circular economy

All companies can play a role in building a greener economy. Your office equipment contains precious metals and recovering them is as easy as contacting your ITAD partner. As we’ve pointed out in the past, your business has a lot to gain from raising your sustainability profile — while uncovering your office gold mine. 

Global Electronic Recycling has all the tools to help you get corporate electronic recycling and ITAD needs right. Contact us today. 

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