Recycling Gold (and other stuff) from Your Cellphone
BBC produced a short video showing what goes on in the cellphone
recycling center operated in south London. I was surprised to see the
amount of manual labor that goes into processing each device. Shipments
of 20-to-30 thousand handsets are received each month from all over
the world. The first step is to classify each phone for dispositioning
either for resale to 3rd-world countries, for cannibalization for useful
working parts, or for junking after removing hazardous components and
precious metals. Phones are sorted by make and model, then electrically
tested for degree of functionality. Having disassembled quite a few
handsets in my days of competitive analysis, I can tell you that doing
so without harming components can take skill that is only acquired through
experience. Since everything from the outer plastic case components
to the LCD can be resold, it is imperative that tool marks are not left
on the pieces. Camera modules, ringer / speaker modules, batteries,
SIM cards, and even motherboards are resold to repair shops and individuals.
The average value of gold reclaimed in a cellphone is "north of 2 pounds"
(~$3US). Many other metals are reclaimed in the smelting process as
well. I hope none of the electronics contained in the phone used in
the video are resold because the chap doing the demonstration had not
a lick of ESD protection in use during handling.