Re: Calling Tim Worstall
Well, I wouldn't say that I'd specifically go out to get phones to recycle them for the gold. But there are people who do mine them and do so productively.
There're a couple of caveats though.
1) No one metal makes the process worthwhile. If you were doing 80s PCs with 200 nm Au plating on the pins them maybe that would be enough in revenue. And if anyone's got some old analogue telephone switches then it's worth hand clipping them for the gold content (have actually watched this being done).
For modern equipment you want the Sn, Cu, Au out and maybe they'll just about cover your costs. Add in not paying Landfill Tax and you're about there.
It might be possible to go further, take the Ta out, but not much more.
2) The other side of this is what are you allowed to throw away? If, once you've started mulching stuff this becomes chemicals waste or some such, with higher disposal costs, you might well find that landfilling the original phones makes more sense.
It's a delicate balance between the two, revenue and final disposal costs. Can go either way dependent.
What certainly doesn't get paid for is the cost of collecting widely dispersed waste into one place. Paying for that has to come from elsewhere. Could be like this. Or, the people who collect today usually try out those that still work and sell them in poor countries. That's the extra revenue that makes the whole system work. Just recycling for the metals costs will not and cannot pay for the costs of the whole system, including collection.