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Mining E-Waste for Jewelry

Would you wear a ring made of electronic-waste? After all, gold is gold, no matter where it’s sourced from–and you’d be helping the environment. Let’s look at e-waste and how the jeweler industry is helping the environment.

The Growing E-waste Problem

The world generates about 50 million tons of e-waste annually, and according to the World Economic Forum could exceed 120 million tons by 2050. The problem is only about a fifth of electronic items like LCD desktop monitors, computers and mobile devices get recycled. The rest end up either incinerated or in landfills.

E-waste, however, contains valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper. In fact, there is 100 times more gold in a ton of discarded mobile phones than in a ton of gold ore. According to the WEF, the value of the e-waste generated worldwide amounts to $62.5 billion.

With so much at stake, a push for industrial-scale e-waste recycling seems inevitable, especially in the wake of countries like China, and now Southeast Asia, no longer accepting e-waste from Europe, Australia and North America.

Dell Paves the Way for Responsible Recycling

Dell became a leading advocate of responsible recycling over a decade ago with the launch of the Dell Reconnect program. The company has since partnered with Goodwill to establish e-waste recycling centers across the United States, as well as the United Nations to tackle e-waste in developing counties.

Dell is not only recycling plastics and using recycled carbon fiber in their products, they are also recovering gold—a key material in many electronics—and reusing it.

“At the start of this project it was our ambition to use more recycled materials in our products,” Louise Koch, Dell’s Corporate Sustainability Director, told the Institute of Engineering and Technology. “We have been using recycled plastics from our own computers since 2014 and now we are expanding into using gold from motherboards and recovering that and using it both for new motherboards and turning it into gold bars and supplying it to Nikki Reed to make jewelry.”

Turning E-Waste into Jewelry

While phones and tablets don’t hold much gold individually, when it’s collected from millions of pounds of electronics, that’s a different story. It’s also why it’s important consumers recycle their electronics responsibly.

Twilight star Nikki Reed is the founder of BaYou With Love, which designs and sells collections using gold from Dell’s US recycling programs. “I hadn’t worked with this medium before–a lot of what we use in our sustainable products are recycled ocean plastics,” Reed told Refinery29. “Our factory [in LA] was asking me all these questions, like how are we going to receive this gold? There are all these legalities that come along with that–they have to receive it in a certain form so it has to be extracted in a certain way.”

The gold was shipped these to Reed’s Bayou with Love from Wistron Green Tech, which extracts gold from motherboards they receive from Dell’s consumer recycling program.

Dell, which uses about 7,000 pounds of gold in its products every year, says only 12.5 percent of e-waste is recycled to create other products. That means consumers throw out over $60 million of gold and silver from tech annually.

Before you throw out your old electronic devices, be sure to visit DellAppleSamsung and Best Buy for recycling options.

Check out our infographic for more fact and figures about gold recycling.

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