What your phone contains
(Part 2)

In part 1 of this article, we discovered why recycling is so important to the environment and what hazardous elements and chemicals lurk in not only your mobile, but many of your home electrical devices.

In this article, we'll explore the "good" chemicals in your handset. These are the valuable chemicals and elements. It is these elements that we need to recover from old electrical devices to safeguard the future of the next generation of mobile devices. If this electronic "waste" goes to landfill, it will make it very difficult to retrieve. Therefore, we have to act responsibly and reuse and recover as much of it as possible.

Whilst the elements and metals we highlight below that exist in your mobile phone are never going to make you rich (as the quantities are relatively minute), when you add millions of devices (not just mobile phones either), the amount of precious and rare earth metals really does start to stack up. Not only that, but as these resources get more and more scarce, the value of these will start to rise and that means more expensive devices.

So, without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order, of valuable and rare earth metals that your mobile phone contains.

Copper
Around 10% of the metal in your mobile phone is Copper. It is used on the circuit boards, battery and the various wires and connectors. Luckily, the copper in your old device can be easily using a simple smelting process. Copper prices have been rising steadily as global supply is under strain, particularly for use in developing economic markets.

Tin
Used in the soldering of the circuit board of your device. Tin accounts for around 1% of the weight of your mobile phone.

Gold
Used in the connectors and in the circuit board of your handset. The gold in the world's mobile phones accounts for roughly 2% of the annual production of Gold globally. Recovering gold from mobile phones is always going to be a worthwhile endeavour and helps the environment immensely due to the fact it avoids the considerable environmental harm associated with gold mining.

Silver
Your mobile phone contains numerous grams of Silver that is used primarily on the circuit board and keyboard contacts. Each year, hundreds and hundreds of tonnes are present in mobile phones sold around the globe. With Silver prices at record highs at the moment, we need to ensure we have a stable supply for future use.

There are many, many more metals, elements and compounds in your mobile phone than the ones we have highlighted in these two articles. The main bulk of the mobile phone is concerned with plastics and glass including the case and circuit board. Your screen also makes up a large part of your mobile phone along with the battery and its housing. All of things can and should be recovered in a sound ecologically friendly manner.

This is not the end of the story however. Of course, there are many other aspects of your mobile phone that can and should be recycled and reclaimed too. This includes any spare batteries, chargers, cables and accessories such as covers and sleeves and Bluetooth headsets etc. The full list of chemicals and compounds in your mobile phone is shown below. Anyone remember GCSE chemistry?

In alphabetical order:

  • Aluminum
  • Antimony
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Beryllium
  • Bismuth
  • Bromine
  • Cadmium
  • Calcium
  • Ceramics
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Fluorine
  • Gallium
  • Glass
  • Gold
  • Lead
  • Liquid crystal polymer
  • Lithium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Nickel
  • Palladium
  • Plastics
  • Ruthenium
  • Silver
  • Steel
  • Strontium
  • Sulfur
  • Tantalum
  • Tin
  • Titanium
  • Tungsten
  • Zinc
  • Zirconium
Originally published 07.01.12.
Reposted 08.04.14