London: Personal computers, mobile phones, tablet computers and other electronic items gobble up a staggering 320 tonnes of gold and 7,500 tonnes of silver worldwide, experts say.
Manufacturing these high-tech products requires more than $16 billion in gold and $5 billion in silver.
Most of these metals will be squandered, however. Just 15 percent or less is recovered from e-waste today in developed and developing countries alike, according to a United Nations University statement.
Electronic waste now contains precious metal "deposits" 40 to 50 times richer than ores mined from the ground, experts said at the first meet of GeSI and StEP E-Waste Academy in Ghana, co-organised by the UN University and the Global eSustainability Initiative (GeSI).
Quantities of gold, silver and other precious metals available for recovery are rising in tandem with the fast growing sales of electronic and electrical goods.
With respect to gold alone, electronic and electrical products consumed 197 tonne (5.3 percent) of the world's supply in 2001 and 7.7 percent last year.
In that same decade, even as the world's annual gold supply rose 15 percent from about 3,900 tonne in 2001 to 4,500 tonne in 2011, the price per ounce leapt from under $300 to more than $1,500.
Thanks to the volume and value of precious metals it contains, the percentage of e-waste collected in developing countries is estimated to be as high as 80-90 percent.
However, some 50 percent of the gold in e-waste is lost in crude dismantling processes in developing countries (compared with 25 percent in developed countries).
The bottom line in rich and poor countries alike: just 10-15 percent of the gold in e-waste is recovered, at least 85 percent is lost.