How the 12 largest telecom operators and the GSMA are going to mine gold, copper, cobalt and silver from old smartphones


According to experts from the GSMA, an association that unites and coordinates several hundred telecom operators around the world, there are now about 5 billion mobile devices on Earth that are not used. The reasons why devices are not used may be different, but the fact remains that a huge number of gadgets are idle (well, or lying) in vain.

But the phones themselves were created using the most valuable resources of the planet, from oil to rare earth metals. Some of these resources can be returned by recycling phones that no one needs. Of course, you can’t get oil in this way, but here are some metals – completely. The carriers and the GSMA have even come up with a plan to collect old phones and recycle them. Details are under the cut.

How much and what can be obtained from unnecessary devices

Experts from the GSMA said that from the 5 billion mobile devices that gather dust on the shelves, lie in a warehouse at work, etc., you can get a huge amount of valuable resources. For example, about 50,000 tons of copper, the cost of which reaches about 33.5 billion rubles at the moment.


In addition to copper, you can also get gold, about 100 tons, with a total price of about 538 billion rubles. But that’s not all, because in the process of recycling phones, cobalt, silver, and other elements can also be returned to industrial circulation. If we imagine that all 5 billion smartphones are recycled and cobalt is extracted from them, then there will be enough cobalt to produce batteries for about 10 million electric vehicles.

Now billions of smartphones and mobile phones are stored somewhere in homes and offices, not taking into account those that are lost or cannot be returned “to circulation” for some other reason. And the resources that have been spent on their production are also dead weight, to put it figuratively. At the same time, mining companies process thousands of tons of various ores, causing irreparable damage to the environment.

That is why telecom operators and GSMA decided to develop a plan for the collection, disposal and recycling of devices.

What kind of plan is this?

Unfortunately, so far it has been told only in general terms. The authors of the program believe that by 2030 it will be possible to collect and recycle up to 20% of devices from the total number of new devices. It is also planned that by the same date, about 100% of user-provided device operators will be either repaired and working again, or recycled.

Unfortunately, there are many shortcomings in this plan. The most obvious is the lack of transparency of this scheme. Who and how will collect the devices is unclear. In addition, even if you imagine that a certain amount of end-of-life smartphones will be sent to companies that recycle electronics, it is still unclear what percentage will actually be recycled. It is possible that many devices will find their end in landfills and special landfills, without recycling. Another negative point is that only about 20% of mobile devices plan to return to circulation. All the rest by 2020 will remain dead weight. How the operators are going to raise the efficiency of their program is not entirely clear.

However, telecom operators are determined. In particular, they announced that they will develop a special business model that will make it possible to recycle thousands of tons of electronic waste on a regular basis.

BT Group, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad, KDDI, NOS, Orange, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel and Telefonica, as well as the Swedish Tele2 have expressed their desire to participate in the program. In fact, we are talking about the largest cellular and satellite communications companies in the US, Europe, Indonesia, China and India.

Not by phones alone

Electronic waste is not only mobile phones, but also laptops, desktop PCs, routers and much, much more. This garbage is also gradually being recycled. So, for example, small Chinese companies are engaged in the processing of electronic waste, and extract, for example, SSD chips from old, discarded SSDs or smartphones / tablets. Even companies that do this are known – for example, Phison and Huirong. Here is a photo of the drive, which is mainly assembled from the components of smartphones thrown into a landfill.


The Chinese also solder smaller chips, down to the smallest SMD components like capacitors, resistors, and others like them. All this is well known, with China recycling more and more e-waste every year, which brings good income to many companies.

In the Russian Federation, they are also doing this. Last year, for example, “Kommersant” published news, which refers to the growth in the volume of recycled equipment. We are talking about the fact that only the body of the electronic device is scrapped, but the boards, cables and other elements are seized by the owners of the devices for the purpose of sale or reuse. Over the past six months, the volume of equipment that is rented without electronic components has grown by 20%.

At the moment, according to Dmitry Sorokin, the chief ecologist of the recycling company PK Vtoralyuminprodukt LLC, about half of the electronic devices that are handed over for recycling come without electronic components.

According to experts, in the Russian Federation we are no longer talking only about ordinary citizens who remove components from disposable devices and sell them or use them in any way. There are already handicraft industries, as well as entire “cooperatives” for the processing of circuit boards. This is indirectly evidenced by an increase in the number of ads, for example, on Avito. There are a lot of them now, literally thousands.

There are advertisements for the sale of electronic boards, there are – for the purchase. As a rule, those who buy will solder various components and then sell them – wholesale or retail. Moreover, in some cases, such items are sold under the guise of new ones.


But there is another way to recycle old devices. So, many companies with a large fleet of computer and other equipment have stopped throwing away gadgets. In many cases, these companies disassemble the devices and keep their components for use in other devices – in case the latter fails. And rightly so – after all, it is much easier to use a component from a board, albeit not a working one, than to buy a completely new device.

In general, more and more companies are paying attention to the problem of e-waste. Many of them see old gadgets as a valuable resource to use. If companies could establish a reliable cycle for receiving and recycling phones, laptops, household appliances, etc., both business and nature would benefit from this.

You may also be interested in these texts:

→ Is PostgreSQL suitable for all projects or do we need alternatives
→ “20% of the equipment will not arrive on time, and 10% will never arrive.” Parallel import as seen by the infrastructure provider
→ When typing hurts you: how we got a static analyzer

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *