According to recent studies, almost 90% of the components of a mobile phone can be reusable, so it is advisable to remove them from the drawer. Large quantities of metals can be removed from around 50,000 telephones: kilos and kilos of gold and silver, hundreds of kilos of copper, etc. This is why many recycling companies are dedicated to examining these phones to obtain rare metals from devices or scarce metals beyond the gold, silver or copper in them.
Rare metals on mobile phones and tablets
Inside your phone there are all kinds of rare metals but in very low quantities. Taking into account the size of your smartphone, the metals used are many but in very small doses. Even so, by gathering thousands of phones we can obtain large amounts of rare metals of the devices. Rare metals that are not usually known if you are not an expert in the field, but whose extraction and commercialization have become key for all kinds of technologies such as medical biotechnology, nanoelectronics, etc.
Steven Art, one of the managers of the Umicore plant in Hoboken (Belgium) explains to El País that for each ton of material extracted from a gold mine, 5 grams of the metal are obtained. Instead, for every ton of electronic tidy cardsr about 150 grams are obtained. Beyond gold, other metals can be recovered with such as platinum, indium, cobalt, etc. Sure, they all sound familiar to you, but there are others that don’t sound as much, such as antimony or niobium or tantalum or the “rare earth” metals that gather metals such as samarium, gadolinium, erbium, tulium and other metals called lanthanides and much less frequent .
What metals are there?
There are all kinds of rare metals in a device, in all its components. Your screen has indium, terbium or dysprosium and the battery does incorporate some better known as lithium, cobalt, carbon, etc. We review what is in each of the parts. A very small device but it incorporates all kinds of metals, from
On the screen
On the screen you find all kinds of metals such as Indium, Silicon, Lanthanum, Terbium, Praseodymium, Europium, Dysprosium, Gadolinium. Precisely on the screen of your phone is where some of the 17 chemical elements are found They are called rare earths (some of which we have mentioned above) and they make sure that the screen lights up correctly, for example. They are in charge of screen lighting or sound reproduction. The metals considered rare earths are: lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, praseodymium, promise, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, ytterbium and lutetium, tulium, yttrium and scandium. You may have never heard of them but they are essential on your mobile.
Along with the previous ones, another fundamental one is mercury, which helps the colors you see on the screen of your phone to be correct. As you may well know, mercury is a difficult metal to recycle and that is precisely why thermometers with this material were eliminated or prohibited.
Mobile phone batteries are, as we have often read or heard, lithium. Lithium is essential for today’s batteries that also have cobalt, carbon, aluminum or oxygen. A large concentration of lithium hydroxide is corrosive. Its substitution by graphene is also being studied, but it is a much more expensive and expensive material. Along with cobalt, they are essential in batteries. What is the problem of cobalt? Some families of minors who have died or been injured working in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have denounced large companies for the conditions in which they work to achieve this.
Mobile phone shell or exterior
On the outside of the mobile phone we find nickel in shell or button coatings. Aluminum is also used in some phones and tablets or plastic in other smartphones, although it is less common and is usually intended for cheaper phone cases or lower ranges.
Inside the mobile phone or the tablet there are all kinds of circuits that are gold plated in some cases but also others such as the tin used for soldering. The problem with some of these substances, such as gold or tin, is that they are considered “blood minerals” that involve slaughter. Inside there is also coltan that is used for create capacitors or silicon that is used for memory, the Internet connection. Also within the phones we find all kinds of conductive materials beyond gold such as platinum or palladium that help create electrical circuits. These last two are problematic since their obtaining harms the environment, for example. Also arsenic, which will sound like a dangerous poison to you, is used inside the phone for electromagnetic signals. Or copper, of course, this being one of the most common although it is not one of the rare metals of the device. Copper has an electrical conductor function and is one of the main ones in a mobile phone.
For the microphone and the speaker iron, boron or neodymium are used, but also praseodymium or dysprosium (some of those considered rare earths) AND for the vibration you notice when a notification arrives tungsten is used.
How to recicle
All of these rare metals in devices are, in many cases, polluting and even dangerous. Furthermore, according to the United Nations, there are 50 million tons of electronic waste annually and in most cases it can be reused if it is treated correctly. Therefore, if you are going to get rid of a mobile phone or a tablet, it is important that you recycle it and not leave it anywhere. According to the Ecoembes association, the materials of the mobile are recyclable and you should take it to a clean point or to a specialized store. They are not thrown into the yellow or green or gray container of organic waste. Once taken to a clean point, they are in charge of separating the different materials through a process of heat and magnets that classifies the materials according to their properties to be able to use them again.
Then, those that can be used are used to make new electronic devices because there are many of them that are scarce and reusing them thus avoids having to damage natural spaces or we will reduce the problems that derive from their extraction.
There are fixed clean points, clean mini-points or neighborhood points and mobile clean points. From the OCU (Organization of Consumers and Users) you can find a search engine for clean points where you can find the closest one if you live in Spain. Just go to the website of the Clean Point Finder and select your province and the population in which you live. Once you have it, you will see a map with the results. You can click on the result you want to see the phone, address, hours and the products it supports.