What happens to our old phones when we upgrade? What do you do with them? Smartphones have in them almost 60 elements, in various components, from the screen to the battery. Instead of junking them or letting them reside in your cupboard forever, you could recycle. Recycling helps recover some of these metals for future use.
Smartphone recycling is a challenging process because a phone, once disassembled has a mix of elements which are difficult to separate. In EU, a project called ‘Critical Raw Material Recovery’ is looking at innovative ways to recover raw materials from electronics and electrical items. Following collection trials, recovery trials will evaluate process to collect CRM from electronic items.
The focus will be on obtaining graphite, cobalt, antimony, tantalum, rare earth, gold, silver. Electronic component is generally shredded before it arrives at the plant.
Apart from smelting, hydrometallurgical techniques are also used to recover CRMs. Hydro-based systems benefit from a lower initial investment. A team at the University of Birmingham, UK, is using electrochemistry to recover metals from printed circuit boards. Early experiments in printed circuit boards have proved that it is possible to recover gold, platinum, silver and iron particles in less than an hour.
The magnets in phones are extracted differently. An EU project called Remanence aims to identify and extract neodymium-iron-boron magnets from electronic waste. Other projects have been undertaken at many places, focusing on NdFeB magnets. A magnetic scanner and robotic system are in place to detect the magnets and feed them into a cropping device.
There are definite ways to recycle smartphones and components, and cutting our emotional ties with our smartphones would be a start to letting go. Perhaps it is wise to sell/reycle your device before you get yourself a new one.