Germans are hoarding nearly two tons of gold – without even realizing it. The costly metal is hidden away in some 80 million no-longer-used mobile phones, each phone containing about 25 milligrams. Add it up and that comes to around 80 million euros worth.

The hidden treasure is beginning to draw attention from both industry and government. "Mobile phones that are no longer in use are a real storehouse of primary materials,” says Parliamentary State Secretary Katherina Reiche. Gold is just one of the approximately 60 different materials built into mobiles, which also contain silver and copper. Approximately 80% of those minerals could be reused. A million mobiles harbor 150 kilos of silver and several tons of copper.

Even if quantities in each individual phone are minimal, says Bernhard Rohleder, general manager of Bitko, a high tech association, it adds up and could help considerably in dealing with the problem of dwindling natural resources. Lead, nickel, bismuth, tin, antimony and iridium are also used in mobile phones. Presently some 3% of silver resources worldwide, and 4% of gold, is being used in the manufacture of mobile phones.

So far, however, Germans have shown themselves reluctant to part with their old phones: it is estimated that only 3% of mobile phones are recycled. Even if they are willing to turn over their used mobiles, Germany doesn’t have the necessary systems in place to receive and collect the devices. Then there’s the logistical problem of how exactly to extract the valuable metals. According to experts, it will take five to 10 years before a recycling system for rare earths can be built up in Europe. 

Read the full story in German by Thomas Heuzeroth

Photo - cogdogblog

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