Back in the nineteenth century, hordes of prospective prospectors flocked out west, struck with a fever to partake in the California Gold Rush. Back further, in the Middle Ages, a speculative brand of science called alchemy led many people to believe that common base metals, like iron, could be converted to precious gold.
Today, we’ve evolved just a bit from those archaic times, but we’re no less eager to find some good, shiny fortune in the unlikeliest of places. While there’s little undiscovered country to plumb for valuables, we don’t need to look that hard. In fact, those wishing to strike gold don’t need to look any further than their own homes.
It’s called “urban mining,” and it’s a trend that can give us a new appreciation for our old electronics — and a new way to add to our savings accounts.
What Is Urban Gold Mining?
Urban gold mining is literally the act of mining for gold in our sundry household electronics, like personal computers, pre-HD television sets and that old cell phone from 2004. This electronic waste, or “e-waste,” as it’s known, can be a veritable goldmine of, well, gold. Yes, there really is gold in our appliances! Unfortunately, many people don’t take advantage of the hidden value in their gadgets, even after they’ve long bit the dust.
But before delving deep into how you can tap into the gold mining scavenger within you, take a look at some statistics and be amazed at the money we’re all throwing away.
Gold in Electronic Waste, Going to Waste
An infographic from Gold & Silver Buyers reveals that millions of dollars of gold and silver sit in landfills around the world. These landfills are populated with tons of e-waste with gold and silver still inside.
The infographic cites the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, which reported that there’s more than $21 billion worth of silver and gold in electronic waste. That accounts for $16 billion and 320 tons of gold alone. Up to 50 million tons of e-waste are scrapped annually.
Let’s break it down. In 2010, we discarded:
- 152 million mobile devices
- 82.2 million keyboards and mice
- 51.9 million computers
- 35.8 million monitors
- 33.6 million printers
- 28.5 million TVs
E-waste can produce between 300 to 400 grams of gold per metric ton. And you can do the math to figure out just how much gold has been scrapped between 2010 and today. The trick to preventing waste is knowing how to get to the gold, and being aware that it’s there in the first place.
How to Extract Gold from Electronics
Mining e-waste and extracting gold from electronics can be a difficult — and dangerous — process if not done carefully. There’s a goldmine of information out there on mining electronics, from eHow.com to tech site Tom’s Hardware. If you’re willing to do the research and take urban mining seriously, use these steps as a guide for what to expect.
1. Gather some electronics. Before recycling electronics, like an old PC or cell phone, set them aside.
2. Cut out the gold. Let’s use a computer motherboard as an example. You’ll need a pair of pliers to remove the pins, connectors and chips that contain gold content. Sources don’t recommend throwing away the boards, as remaining components contain silver.
3. Prep chemicals for the bath. For experienced miners only. You’ll be using everything from bleach to noxious hydrochloric acid. These will be used in part for electroplating — a process that uses a solution to conduct electricity.
4. Charge it. The basic explanation of this step involves taking the pins you’ve retrieved, placing them in your prepared chemical solution, and charging it (via a battery, alligator pins and wires) to dissolve the metal into a sediment.
5. Refine it. Urban gold miners will prepare a special mix — part Aqua Regia (nitric and hydrochloric acids), part sodium meta bisulphite — which separates copper and other elements from the gold. At this point in the refining process, the gold collects as a powder.
6. Mine the gold. The powder is melted in a crucible for transformation into pure gold that can be sold.
If all the mixing, filtering, charging and chemistry isn’t for you, there are plenty of professional metal reclaiming services who can refine your gold for you. All that’s left up to you is to scavenge it from the right electronics before turning them into e-waste. With the trend of cash-for-gold businesses abundant, you’ll be able to make an extra profit by harvesting treasures from your electronic refuse and investing in gold, proving that the effort truly is worth the effort.