“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”….
Summary: I was trying to find sourcing on recycling silver over the years, and there’s not a lot out there. I had discussed $75 silver may be a number needed regarding how this may be a cost needed to liberate silver from items that are not sterling, 90%, or bars/coins/rounds. I have heard $75 in many interviews over the years, but trying to find who said what at exactly what minute in a video after you have listened to thousands of videos is trying to find a needle in the haystack. What you find though, is with the “industrial” e-waste, silver is mostly a byproduct of companies recovering metals. If you are trying to start a company to recover silver from refrigerators, you may need significantly higher priced silver than we have today.
Recycling and Scrap
There are interesting companies out there, which I’ll speak to below, that have new processes of liberating silver from e-waste which could prove more cost effective and safer than previous companies that have tried to do this. Keep in mind, however, they are focused on GOLD recovery and silver is a byproduct. Meaning, the particular items they are processing are known to have gold in them, and this recovery is NOT silver-based. This is an important distinction I need to point out when I say you need $75 to make it economical to recover silver.
Remember, on my presentation I talked about how the Silver institute lists it as recycling, but they really mean scrap? Well, they interchange these words a lot.
So when you look at scrap supply, you see this above? You then drill into their report, and you see this for recycling.
Here above you see industrial as the leading component now in “recycling”. You can see this category is industrial, jewelry, photo, coin, silverware.
In the 2021 report they break down the industrial citing e-waste.
Before I dig in, I think we need to look at a lot of these different terms. In my Arcadia Economics video, I had talked about silver recycling and companies that have been trying to do it – and how $75 may be needed. I had lumped David Morgan into that group because I had recalled him vaguely talking about the recycling companies years ago, and recalled Keith Neumeyer talking about how it he had invested in companies that went bankrupt over it. I didn’t mean to insinuate the EXACT company he was talking about (ELLVF) in a video from 2 years ago would have a cost of $75 to recycle. I’ll talk more about them below, as I believe I wrote an article about them like a year or so ago, or it got stuck in the hopper.
Terminology – e-waste and electronic waste? Are they the same?
This depends on the source of who you are reading, which brings a lot of confusion. Wikipedia tries to define it below, which differs from a company further down.
When I talked about RECYCLING in the post, I was referring to the silver institute numbers on recycling, which primarily came from “scrap” which THEY seem to list as jewelry, 90%, bars, e-waste. What you SEE with this category are simply melting down something OR getting the silver as a byproduct of gold. This is NOT companies designed to extract silver from band aids or toasters. These are the items that seem to be uneconomical, according to Keith Neumeyer (clip further down).
I tried to differentiate from how people are trying to recover silver from switches, cars, band aids, stretchy pants. While e-waste is a real business, for a lot of years people would send circuit boards to the dark regions of the world so people there could work for slave wages and be exposed to all kinds of chemicals and nasty items like mercury and lead.
How e-waste may look in Africa.
How it looks in China.
They would then potentially also burn this stuff causing a lot of these plastics and chemicals to create a big mess in the atmosphere.
Here, most people/companies might just dump electronics due to the cost of disposal. Someday, I will make my fortune buying a distressed dump and mining it for metals 🙂
So – in my presentation the point was there was a LOT of electronics at the dump, and if you wanted to simply dig things up to recover silver from them, you would need a much higher price. To be profitable, you have to target specific items of electrical/electronic waste, and you have to be careful to not accept non-profitable items. More on that as well.
You get the idea….higher silver prices allow more supply to hit the market, and it makes silver recycling more cost effective. I mentioned $75, and this is where you get the idea of higher silver prices needed to unlock a lot of this supply and to make a lot of this economical in the United States/Canada. Along with some of the things you will see below.
Now, let’s look at a bunch of different things that may have silver in them to look at what some of these companies MAY be looking at.
This one company wanted you to understand what electronic waste was and how this was different from “electrical” waste. What?? That differs from the Wikipedia item above? They wanted to differ it from electrical waste I imagine due to the components in them and the different PM densities in them. So you pay for them to dispose of your waste.
The difference is, the first grouping may have circuit boards with a lot more valuable metals where you can imagine gold is what they are mostly trying to recover. The second grouping may have circuit boards and control boards with silver/copper etc, but do not appear to be nearly as lucrative, pound for pound and may not have any discernable highly priced PMs in them. Remember what I was discussing about processing only specific TYPES of electronics?
For example, a tiny iphone may have .4g of silver in it. It may also have traces of gold. This video showed how you can recover 2.63g of silver from a refrigerator thermostat.
So if you were trying to get rid of this stuff, you’d have to ship it. The refrigerator weighs what, 400 pounds? iphone may weigh 200g or half a pound? Pound for pound, you are interested in the 800 iphones to get you 320g of silver as opposed to the one refrigerator to get you 2.63g.
If you lumped all of that together and tried to transport tons of this stuff, it will cost you in hauling and labor to move it. Fuel costs. Permitting. Business taxes. Back office labor. You then have warehousing costs. You then might need labor to take apart all of the stuff to get to the electric parts. Then you have medical coverage, disability, etc for these potential union employees.
You’d then have trucks upon trucks delivering this to your back door.
You’d probably have to then separate out the items to get circuit boards or the like from the “good” stuff…but what do you do with everything else?
Do you then have to pay someone to take the husks away?
Or do you crush everything and shred everything to recycle all of the metals? What do you do with the plastics? You probably either need to only import the circuit boards OR have a full-blown recycling plant.
I then got sucked into a research paper here that also wanted to go into differences with types of electronics. The paper is 99 pages and fascinating for what I read through. The WEE definition below is similar to the Wikipedia definition above. So these guys throw it all in one category, but companies are selective about what products they accept.
It then stands to reason that each one of these categories may have different metals in different concentrations. Large household appliances may have silver in switches/temperature control units, but the cost to transport and tear them apart and then dispose of the rest of the metal/plastic may be severe – perhaps there is no gold in a refrigerator and while you can get the 2.63g of silver from the refrigerator, it isn’t cost effective because there is no gold component. Maybe medical grade items are known to have more silver and palladium. And perhaps the greatest treasure of the categories above may be compact IT/telecom equipment which have circuit boards with lots of silver, lead, gold, etc.
The question I then have for anyone is…IF you take all of the items above, what is the price of silver you need to have in order to make it economical to recover the silver from it? My GUESS is that the e-waste category tends to have more gold, which thus makes those categories with higher concentrations of gold, palladium, and platinum more profitable – and silver is a BYPRODUCT of this process (meaning, you don’t care if silver is $25 or $75). You will see below that silver is a “free” byproduct of Envirometals. Meaning – IF your company was ONLY doing the tons of circuit boards AFTER someone else sorted everything else for you, you probably had to pay them for those boards, and there was labor for them to do all of that work and ship it to you. Then, you don’t know if this was a control board from a laptop or a microwave – and above, you can potentially see the difference one company called one e-waste, and the other electrical waste.
So – if you were to get all of the PMs from a circuit board with potentially lots of gold, this is DIFFERENT than trying to recover the silver from a refrigerator in the high price PM density per pound. Think laptop with silver and gold versus refrigerator with only silver. One is economical, the other may need $75 silver to unlock that supply to chase the silver.
I never mentioned this company by name, but I did mention companies that David Morgan was referring to with e-waste in a broad recollection of a discussion he had (I have probably listened to 200 of his interviews), and indirectly it seems Envirometals got brought into this.
What I was referring to in my discussion was the cost of trying to buy anything with silver in it to extract silver – like stretchy pants, band aids, and control/circuit boards may be very expensive to retrieve the silver. Think of a giant pile of the “electrical” waste above (not electronic waste) and trying to get the silver out of it and understanding the price silver needs to be to make that economical.
However, many of these recycling companies today are focused on a specific category that has a potential to recover gold, and silver is a byproduct in this process.
So, there have been companies for years that would send their scrap to China or Nigeria, or some place not so great and these companies used discount labor, just threw things in a smelter and burned it into the atmosphere, and then processed what was left. Many of these places are now rejecting e-waste (in a broader category) because of how harmful it is, and with labor costs and environment regulations – it is expensive and dangerous to do a lot of this in the West. Think of the lead/mercury byproducts, let alone from all of the plastics that are left over.
So when I looked up the SPECIFIC company David is referring to above, Envirometals, they have a new process to recover PMs from e-waste that doesn’t involve cyanide. I have been a fan of theirs and have been watching to see how they do. Here is their breakdown per ton of e-waste. As you can see, what they are recovering is mixed in a few types of metals…
What this shows is per tonne, they are getting 25g gold, 200g silver, 5g palladium, 200,000g copper, and 70,000g aluminum. And remember, they don’t have a price for silver that makes this economically viable because they are primarily going for GOLD recovery. You can obviously see they get a lot of copper out of it too. Broadly, by price breakdown, silver is about 5% of the overall recovery efforts in metals returns. Meaning – silver price fluctuations have little impact on their bottom line.
It’s unfortunate to meet your silver idol when he’s correcting you on a post, but I wanted to cover the supply side to demonstrate that there are OODLES of silver out there, but getting it into a bar form requires…
- A higher price point to encourage more silver to come to the market (see Neumeyer clip above)
- A higher silver price so you can economically recover silver from non-gold items – again – see Neumeyer clip where it is difficult and expensive to get this out of circuit boards.
- A process to recover silver as a byproduct of other metals to make it economical.
To process e-waste, you need to mostly focus on gold/palladium/platinum/copper recovery and get silver as a “free” byproduct. We saw the silver in a refrigerator was 2.63g, or what – about $2 worth? There may be other parts of the refrigerator you want to recycle, but you would need stupid high silver prices to go into business to get silver from these.
Until the silver price goes much higher, there are literally millions of tons of waste out there with silver locked in it that is currently not economical to recover. $75 silver will be a good start to make a lot of this more economical and unlock a lot of this supply.