Precise metals are rising in price and there are those who are lining themselves in an unexpected way

At the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the medal winners went home with different gold, silver and bronze medals, as 100% of their material came from recycled electronics. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, this was limited to 30% of the silver and bronze medals.

And it is that the recycling of electronic products and recovering precious materials is a booming business that becomes more interesting as the price of precious materials and raw materials increases. Our smartphones contain gold, and there are those who are willing to recover it.

The rising price of gold

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Although the price of gold varies and sometimes goes up or down, the long-term trend is up. For example, an ounce of gold in the year 2000 was around 275 dollars, in 2021 it has reached close to two thousand dollars, as it did in 2011. That is, gold is not a safe investment that will always provide us more units of fiat currency, for example, in 2015 it reached a drop of 1100 dollars an ounce, but it is an asset that tends to rise.

This means that if, on the one hand, the price of those products that need gold for their manufacture increases (in minuscule quantities), if the price of gold increases, recovering it from scrap metal becomes a much more lucrative business.

Although we cannot think about it, according to one periodic table published by the European Chemical Society, there is a risk that silver will run out in the next hundred years, gold is also scarce, since it is a product about which there are doubts about its origins. Both silver and gold are used in the manufacture of smartphones, making old smartphones a very interesting source to recover these materials.

Recycling gold is not just ecology, there is profitability in the process

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Daniel Marburger, CEO of Coininvest, comments that According to the UN e-waste report, it would take around 40 phones to accumulate just one gram of gold, which at the moment is worth around € 60. Therefore, the gold content would be € 1.50 per iPhone. It does not seem, then, that we are going to get money by taking our old iPhone to Buy Gold, but at an industrial level we are talking about something more interesting.

In 2016 as published by The Verge, Apple recovered by recycling 90 million pounds of materials thanks to its recycling program. That was about 2204 pounds of gold, which according to Business Insider at 2015/2016 prices, it assumed $ 40 million in recycled gold! All this without thinking about the benefit of the rest of the recovered materials, it is not surprising that they have automated the process.

In addition, recovering gold from mobile waste is potentially cheaper and more useful than mining it. In a ton of gold ore are six grams of gold, in a ton of electronic waste we find 350g. All this without counting the other interesting materials that can be found. Approximately only 20% of electronic waste is recycled, but in some parts of the world, such as India, only 1.5% of this waste is recycled.

In a way those who manage to recover materials from the garbage, especially precise metals, they are modern alchemists that they have managed to turn worthless products into gold, as those of the Middle Ages tried.

How do they do that? In the case of Japan, there was a campaign for individuals and companies to donate old electronic products to be recycled, obtaining material to recover around 5,000 medals. In the case of Japan, it was done using pyrometallurgy techniques, at a cost of around € 200 per ton, cheap, but highly polluting. There are also hydrometallurgy techniques, with a cost of about 400 euros per ton, but less polluting. The future seems to be biometallurgy, using microorganisms to recover the different materials, much better for the environment than the other methods and at a cost 50% lower than the first.

Who wants recycled gold?

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Who buys the recycled gold? Are there hippie gold buyers who only want it if it’s recycled? Can be. Daniel Marburger points out that although they have recycled gold products, so do watchmakers.

We were already talking like Swiss watchmakers have not been affected by the Apple Watch and smartwatches as one would expect, but they are being watched by environmental NGOs. For example in 2018 WWF Switzerland published a report ranking eighteen different watch manufacturers according to how they obtained their resources in a more or less “green” way to make their watches. Some manufacturers such as the Richemont group (owner of brands such as IWC or Cartier) were quite interested in being green according to this organization. Other manufacturers such as Rolex or the brands of the Swatch group were not so interested.

Ask readers, do you think there is any stigma for investors regarding recycled gold?

In The Salmon Blog | What if diamonds weren’t valuable?, Why Some Investors Keep Gold In Their Portfolio: Inflation and Volatility

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