Guess how many old phones to make a gold bar

Guess how many old phones to make a gold bar
LUCRATIVE BUSINESS: Firms like TES-AMM Singapore recycle the estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste produced here annually. And, if you're wondering, it can take up to 60,000 used phones to make a 1kg gold bar.

SINGAPORE - As tech-crazy Singaporeans go through more gadgets with each passing year, some companies have found that the recycling of used phones, laptops and home appliances - also known as e-waste - is a lucrative business.

Six such firms have been set up in the past decade, taking the total number of firms in the industry to about 10 now.

They recycle the estimated 60,000 tonnes of e-waste produced annually in Singapore.

These companies ensure that most of the e-waste gets reused, turned into precious metals, plastics or other metals like aluminium, iron and steel. As a result, only 0.05 per cent of e-waste is disposed of, said a National Environment Agency spokesman.

TES-AMM Singapore, set up in 2004 and the market leader here, processes more than 11,000 tonnes of e-waste yearly.

Circuit boards are particularly valuable, as they can be reduced into mixed metal ingots - consisting mostly of copper - and sold for about $90 each.

Around 60kg of circuit boards - retrieved from about 100 desktop computers - is needed to produce a single mixed ingot weighing about 15kg.

Once in a while, the plant collects enough to yield ingots of precious metals, including gold. It can take up to 60,000 used phones to make a 1kg gold bar.

Most of the e-waste that these firms process comes from companies, and consists of defective products along with obsolete computers, among other things.

TES-AMM and ELMS Industrial, an e-waste processing firm founded in 1994, estimate that less than 5 per cent of the e-waste they collect yearly is from individuals.

But that figure is growing as Singaporeans become more environmentally conscious.

Three years ago, ELMS would receive two inquiries weekly about recycling from individuals. These days, it can get eight such inquiries per week, said managing director Tim Tan.

People have dropped off all kinds of items, from game consoles to foot massagers.

The most enthusiastic person brought with him what seemed like the entire contents of his storeroom, said Ms Cheryl Tan, senior account manager of TES-AMM, as she pointed out the man's pile of electronics at the company's drop-off centre during My Paper's recent visit. It included several keyboards and computer monitors.

The e-waste industry will continue to boom in years to come as more electronics are produced, companies said.

TES-AMM expects a 10 per cent growth in the volume of e-waste processed this year, said Ms Tan.

"We're certainly going to receive more e-waste from our commercial clients in the near future," she said, adding that "we welcome more individual contributions, too".

wslee@sph.com.sg


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