While the amount of gold used in individual components is very small, the amount adds up quickly when you consider how many electronics are produced each year.
Because recycling rates for e-waste are still low (globally below 15%), a lot of these precious metals exit the economy.
In the U.S. alone, consumers trash US$60 million of precious metals each year by not recycling their phones.
By contrast, a ton of used motherboards has up to 800x more gold than a ton of gold ore.
By capturing and reusing gold from obsolete electronics where possible, Dell is able to reduce the environmental and social footprint of its products while supporting a broader shift to the circular economy.
Dell was the first PC manufacturer (Jan 2018) to use recycled gold from e-waste in its products.
Closed-loop gold process
Just as Dell does with its closed-loop plastics, it “mines” its own recycling stream for raw materials.
Computers and other electronics that come in through the Dell Reconnect partnership with Goodwill in the U.S. get recycled at more than 2 000 locations.
Those computers that work are refurbished and resold, helping support Goodwill’s mission.
Those that cannot are disassembled.
In the case of gold, Dell’s partner, Wistron, responsibly extracts the gold from motherboards electro-chemically and then melts the gold into bars for easy transport.
Dell’s initial project will ship approximately 5 pounds (2.27 kg) of gold to our suppliers in Taiwan who will use it to create a “gold salt bath.”
Components for new motherboards are then dipped in this bath to coat them.
The initial project will support the creation of millions of new motherboards in the next year, the first of which will appear in the Dell Latitude 5285 2-in-1.
Challenges associated with gold mining
Gold mining is a complicated business with some environmental and social challenges.
Tailings from mining operations can pollute the water and soil, and some mining areas face a risk of forced or child labor and dangerous working conditions.
It is Dell’s goal not to purchase product materials containing minerals whose sale directly or indirectly finance armed conflict or contribute to human rights abuses.
At the same time, the company is committed to supporting responsible sourcing from those regions in which specific mining operations may present risk.
Dell was a leading voice in the industry-wide collaborations with the Responsible Business Alliance (formerly Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition) that led to the formation of the Responsible Minerals Initiative in 2011, whose programs, tools and guidance documents help companies address responsible sourcing issues for tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold (often referred to as 3TG or “conflict minerals”).
Additionally, it trains its suppliers on the issues and continue to support multiple efforts to improve conditions.
Advantages of recycled gold
In working with TruCost, Dell found that the closed-loop process can cause 99% less environmental damage and avoid $1.6 million in natural capital costs per kg processed ($3.68 million for its pilot project alone) when compared to mining.
The same study showed closed-loop process can avoid 41 times the social impacts of mining.
Raising awareness with help from Bayou with Love
Dell believes one reason recycling rates for e-waste are so low is that people do not recognize how valuable their electronics still are even if they don’t work.
Through a collaboration with actress, activist and entrepreneur Nikki Reed, Dell hopes to bring greater visibility to the value within technology and encourage people to recycle responsibly.
Nikki and Dell have a shared interest in sustainability and we are partnering with her latest venture, Bayou with Love, to create an up-cycled jewelry collection made entirely from recycled gold recovered from Dell’s technology recycling programs.
Nikki co-founded Bayou with Love with Morgan Mogle to provide conscious products that consider the planet and those on it.
Inspired by the Louisiana Bayou, all of their products are made in the US of sustainably sourced and recycled materials.
The line made with the gold from technology is circular in nature and reflects the beautiful world in which Dell continuously reuse resources and strive for zero waste.
What you can do
With global recycling rates under 15%, the most important thing is to responsibly recycle your obsolete electronics.
- Recycling matters: U.S. consumers throw away up to $60 million in gold and silver via discarded cell phones each year
- Dell is the first in the industry to recycle gold from motherboards back into new motherboards
- The process causes 99% less environmental damage
- Dell’s initial project will avoid $3.68 million in natural capital costs, based on the initial 6 million motherboard that will be created
- The process also avoids 41x the social impacts of gold mining
Feature image credit: Wikimedia