Could your old phone be a goldmine?

We're so used to upgrading our phones every year or so, we rarely think about what we're chucking when we throw away our old ones. Not only is your previous handset an intricately designed piece of machinery, it also contains components that are valuable in their own right; including gold.

That's right, your smartphone is a tiny goldmine. However, because the mineral is used in circuitry, it is too difficult to recover. In fact, in 2016, it's estimated that more than $29 billion worth of gold was thrown away in the form of electronic waste. However, this may soon change, as a bacterium has been discovered that could make the job a whole lot easier.

A patch of earth on a disused mine in regional Queensland has yielded a newly discovered type of bacteria that creates gold nuggets from the traces of the mineral in the soil. It's owned by John Parsons, who's worked with researchers from the University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland to study the bacteria.

Talking to ABC News, Mr Parsons said the bacteria filtered out other chemicals in the soil to “build these little nuggets, grain by grain, layer by layer by layer”. The theory is that this microbe could be used to do the same thing with electronic waste, filtering out the gold and turning it into something useable.

Of course, this process is in its infancy. At the moment, it's thought that it would take between 17 and 58 years to extract the gold from electronic waste using bacteria. While that's better than nothing, researchers are hoping to find a way of speeding this up.

If they can manage this, your old phone might be worth a bit more, as the gold in it could be harvested to be used in other consumer electronics. This is still a way off, but it's worth keeping an eye out, especially if you've got into the habit of changing your handset wherever possible.

Written by Mazuma

Mazuma Mobile is Australia's most trusted mobile phone recycling service.

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