One tonne of circuit boards yields about the same amount of gold as 110 tonnes of gold ore. Around 80% of a phone can be recycled or energy recovered and the remainder can be used in inert construction aggregates.
GSMA estimates that of the mobile phones collected annually about 15-20% or up to about 4.5 million phones globally will be beyond economic repair and need to be recycled. The current total mass of phones to be recycled is about 582 tonnes, only about 0.001-0.003% of the estimated 20-50 million tonnes of waste electronic (eWaste) equipment each year.
During recycling the batteries may first be separated from the mobile phone and sorted into their various types before reprocessing by specialist recyclers. The metals extracted during the recycling process — including gold, platinum, palladium and silver — are put back into productive use. About 16% (by weight) of a typical mobile phone is considered 'high value' materials.
Efficient and environmentally sound treatment of mobile phones requires sophisticated facilities that cannot be duplicated in every country. Where end-of-life phones need to be exported this should occur with appropriate authorisations.
Recycling of network equipment often occurs as a business-to-business activity associated with network upgrades.