– Most of us have way
more unused electronics than we think we do. Seriously, go through your desk,
your closets, your toolbox, and pull out anything with a power cord or a battery that you’re not using. Pile it all up and you might be shocked. The average family has 80
pieces of electronic waste lying around their home. That’s a lot of clutter
we just don’t need. But it also means that your
house is a literal goldmine. We just have to do the mining. We produce a lot of electronics, which means that all of this tech is quickly becoming the
fastest-growing source of garbage on the planet. And the term e-waste refers to all of it, from your first iPhone
to your first laptop to even your electric toothbrush. The list goes on and on. E-waste is such a challenge to process because it contains so many materials: plastics, metals, and some of it’s toxic. But it’s also a big
opportunity for recycling because a cell phone like this one contains a few rare
and valuable materials. A big one is gold, and it’s found in a lot of electronics because it’s highly conductive and it doesn’t corrode very easily. So, you tend to find gold
coating on pins and plugs and printed on circuit boards. But there’s also copper, silver, lead, and palladium in there. It’s not much per device. But as e-waste piles up, the amount of reclaimable
metals in there piles up too. And then there was this study,
published earlier this year, and it made a pretty wild claim. Recovering metals like gold from e-waste is now more efficient than
digging it up out of the earth. Angela Chen covered
this story for The Verge and she explained how that’s possible. – So, we have the Earth and, on average, there’s about half a gram
of gold in one ton of earth. Now, of course, there are gold mines in various places on the Earth. There, if you have one ton of earth, you get about five or six grams, which is about the weight
of kind of a large ring. And when it comes to
e-waste and mobile phones, the number’s much higher. So, say you have a ton of mobile phones. There’s actually 350
grams of gold in there, and that’s a lot higher even than one of the
gold mines on the Earth. – [Cory] The beauty of
metals like gold is that no matter what process you
subject them to in manufacturing, they’re not going to change. Gold is still gold,
whether it’s been bonded onto a circuit board or dug out of a rock. – I think that, just for
lack of a better term, metals are natural. But most of the time, we’ve
been doing metalworking for thousands of years and we already know that to cast them in the
first place, they’re liquid. So, to melt them back, it’s a state that they’ve already been in. – [Cory] But there are a
couple of roadblocks here. One is that e-waste needs to enter the recycling ecosystem to be processed, and clearly lots of it never does. – And, I think, for most
of us, we’re nostalgic. We have these feelings
associated with them. What if our current MacBook
breaks and we’re so dependent, will we just need to use an old one? And that makes it harder for us to let go. – [Cory] And even if e-waste
makes it out of your house, it’s got a long road ahead. You need a very specialized process to separate the valuable stuff from the worthless stuff
from the hazardous stuff. Verge reporter Andy Hawkins
followed some e-waste through a huge recycling center in Massachusetts a while back and he came back with some
pretty intense photos. – So, either you live in a city that has dedicated e-waste pickup, which are few and far between, or you have to actually
drop off your e-waste at a dedicated recycling center. Either way, the e-waste is collected and it’s shipped to a sorting facility, where it’s separated in
terms of the types of e-waste that you’re talking about. So, whether you’re talking about laptops, flat-screen televisions,
smartphones, drones, cameras, all that stuff has to be separated out into their own separate piles. And then those piles are then transported to a bigger recycling center,
where they’re just destroyed. I mean, they’re just ripped apart, smashed into tiny little
bits, shredded, most likely, so that you can separate sort
of the recyclable material, things like gold and aluminum, from the stuff that just
needs to get discarded and thrown into the waste stream, like plastic and wood
and things like that. – That’s just the fate of e-waste that stays in the United States. But, sadly, most of it doesn’t. The United States is the only
developed country in the world that hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export
of e-waste to other nations. So, legally or otherwise,
lots of our e-waste ends up in developing countries like India, China, and South Africa. – So, it’s an incredible toxic process, breaking down a lot of this e-waste, and I think that that’s why you’re seeing a lot of this shifting to overseas and to countries that are poorer and have less regulatory
and government oversight. There have reports about
mountains of discarded electronics that have been building up in
countries like China and India and it’s poisoning the water,
it’s poisoning the land, and it’s leading to a lot
of environmental concerns and health concerns amongst the
people, especially children, that live near these mountains
of discarded electronics. – So, look, there’s a lot of opportunity and need for e-waste recycling, but it’s a dangerous and tedious process. And reclaiming all that
gold will take a lot more than us just emptying our closets. But empty your closets anyways. Recycle your old electronics. You’ll be amazed to find
what you have laying around. Hey everyone, if you liked this video, be sure to check out and subscribe to our brand-new Verge
Science YouTube channel, where we’re putting out
a new video every week. Thanks for watching.