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Digging for gold in the mountain of old mobiles

Digging for gold in the mountain of old mobiles
LONDON - A UK-based firm is doubling its campaign to tap into the estimated $40 million of precious metals lying around Britain\'s homes and offices in redundant mobile phones.
XS Tronix this week launched a recycling plan in conjunction with UK electronics retailer Comet, under which Comet customers will be able to send unwanted mobile handsets for recycling in pre-paid envelopes. XS Tronix has operated a similar programme with UK supermarket chain Tesco PLC since last November, with two or three more likely to launch in the UK in the next few weeks, group CEO Colin Armstrong-Bell told Reuters this week. \"If we look at what we collect from Tesco it\'s around 1,500-2,000 phones a day when the advertising is going well, and from Comet we would look for something not too far away from that,\" Armstrong-Bell said. Bombarded by advertising campaigns exhorting them to upgrade to the latest, most fashionable model, many mobile phone subscribers have at least one unused handset gathering dust at home. \"If you assume 1.2 redundant phones per person over and above the one they\'re actually using, the market is huge,\" Armstrong-Bell said. While copper is the biggest metallic component by weight, the main value in recyclable metals from mobile phones comes from precious metals. Every 3.5 tonnes of phones processed contain around 2.8 kg of copper, 2.01 kg of silver, 0.4 kg of gold and 0.2 kg of palladium, Armstrong-Bell said. At an average weight of 250 grams a phone, the estimated 90 million redundant mobile phones in the UK would contain around 18 tonnes of copper, 428,000 troy ounces of silver, 85,000 ounces of gold and 42,600 ounces of palladium. At current spot market prices this equates to gold worth just over $26 million, palladium worth around $15 million, close to $2 million of silver and just $28,880 of copper. Further value can be obtained from the recycling of nickel metal hydride, nickel-cadmium or lithium-ion batteries. OUTSOURCING XS Tronix would oversee the overall recycling chain, but was prepared to outsource certain specialist activities, Armstrong-Bell said. \"France\'s SNAM (Societe Nouvelle D\'Affinage Des Metaux) is the world leader in battery recycling, so with competition like that you have to be smart with your outsourcing,\" he said. In addition to the metallic content and batteries, other outlets are available in the growing markets for recycled phone components and refurbished handsets, Armstrong-Bell said. \"In the developing world there\'s big demand for refurbished mobile phones, and in Europe there\'s big demand for components from redundant mobile phones,\" he said. Around half the average phone\'s compments are currently recyclable, though not necessarily for the same high-end electronic applications. \"The commodities will be traded on the commodity markets, the components will be traded on the component markets,\" Arnstrong-Bell said. As later generations of redundant phones hit the recycling market, the trend towards smaller, more compact handsets should see an increasing focus on component extraction and refurbishment as metal content declines. \"If you go back four or five years the bigger, clunkier phones will have more commodity value, but as they get smaller the component extraction value gets a lot higher,\" he said. \"They can only get smaller if they get smarter.\" Story by Andy Blamey REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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