2020-07-31T16:24:49Z (GMT) by Omar N Tantawi

Smartphones, one of the most common consumer electronic devices, are an essential part of daily activities in modern society. Smartphones provide faster communication, easier access to information and many other important services. However, with a compressed product life cycle and growing consumer demand, a significant number of smartphones reach End-of-Life (EoL) annually. At the same time, due to many special physical properties, rare earth, critical and other important metals are essential for the manufacturing of smartphones. Hence, from various economic, resources availability and environmental perspectives, it is crucial to understand how metal content of different smartphones generations change over time. To this end, a high production smartphone series, produced between 2010 and 2015 were considered in the scope of this study. The devices were disassembled, sorted into different components and size reduced. Printed circuit boards assembly, back cameras and NFC antenna/wireless charging chips were then digested using a novel microwave assisted acid digestion method. Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy was used to detect and quantify 60 elements. Obtained results indicate that up to 70% of different smartphones components by weight are important recyclable metals. The highest concentration elements, Cu, Ni, Sn, Zn and Fe, accounted for 93.3% while REEs and PGMs collectively accounted for 0.53% of the total recoverable elements by weight. In 2019, the total addressable market value of metals reclamation from only three smartphone components at their end of life is estimated at 298.69 million USD in USA. Gold and Platinum were determined to be the most environmentally critical elements and efforts should made to reduce their use. Finally, and most importantly, smartphones manufacturers should design their products with an extended lifetime due to the high concentration of critical elements used to make them.