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Recovery of Precious Metals

Time:2019-09-20 16:20 Author:Suny Group

The recovery of these precious metals is no small issue. While a modern recycling facility can recover as much as 95% of gold, in developing countries, the crude dismantling processes employed may recover only 50% of this precious metal.

Overall, current recovery rates of e-waste for processing is quite small. For example, for 2009 the U.S. EPA reported that only 8% of cell phones were recycled, along with 17% of televisions, and 38% of computers. Not enough of overall devices find their way to recyclers, and for the ones that do, not enough metals are recovered from those devices, on a global scale. Recycling results in only a 10 to 15% recovery of all the gold stored in e-waste. The rest is lost.

This low recycling rate stresses the need for initiatives to help promote recovery of precious resources. This can be accomplished through:

Policies that promote design for recycling

Policies and incentives to increase the e-scrap recycling rate, encouraging the public to recycle their end of life devices rather than stockpiling them in residences - where as much as 75% of end-of-life devices is estimated to be inventoried

Preventing export of e-scrap to countries that will use processes resulting in a low recovery rate

Promoting investment in best practices to ensure that recovery will be maximized in both developed and developing countries.

Recycling of E-Waste

The recycling process varies among jurisdictions. The processing of e-scrap involves primary and secondary steps. In the primary phase, electronic devices are dismantled or demanufactured, and the components sorted. Further processing then takes place, often at secondary recycling facilities. This can involve a variety of processes to crush and sort material through the use of magnets, screens, and eddy current. A smelting process is utilized to liberate precious metals from electronics components.

One promising new process promises to more quickly and inexpensively recover gold from old computers and other electronic devices, with less environmental impact. Their process makes use of a solution -- acetic acid combined with very small amounts of an oxidant and another acid, which researchers say dissolves gold at the fastest rate ever known. Also of note, Apple reported in April 2016 that it had recovered 2,204 lbs of gold in the previous year, valued at $40 million.

In the future, the waste stream of today will increasingly be recognized as a material recovery opportunity, a necessary outcome as we strive towards ​sustainability.