There’s Gold in Them Computers… But How Much?
As you know, Montana was part of the gold rush back in the 1860's. With most of the big operations happening around Virginia City, Bannack, the Elkhorn mountains south of Helena and various other spots. One of these days I'd like to get a gold pan and try my luck in some of our mountain streams. Popular reality TV shows about chasing gold fuel the fire. I even subscribe to a website email letter that offers gold mining claims for sale across the US (there are five currently offered in Montana). It's a fun fantasy I like to kick around in my head. Quitting this ridiculously easy radio job, to become a hard rock gold miner. Yeah... that probably won't ever happen, but it's my fantasy, so back off.
Anyway, you may have heard there is gold in old computers. It's true. There are trace amounts of gold plating on certain parts of the internals. Currently, our engineering department is updating all of the computers, servers and other electronic stuff here at the broadcast center. There are at least 15 computers in the picture at the top of this story, taking up space in the hallway. A couple more are carelessly stacked here:
But wait.. there's more:
There's probably another pile lurking somewhere that I haven't spotted yet. A lot of computers right? Surely they must be worth something, with all of that gold inside. Nope. Not so much.
I reached out to Kolbi Fox at Yellowstone E-Waste Solutions, down on 4th Ave N to get some answers. I told her that I searched the internet and found some articles posted from a few years ago, claiming that old computers contain up to $0.80 of gold (or more) in each PC. She started laughing and corrected me with the facts regarding gold in computers.
Old computers (like from the '80s) likely contain slightly more gold than newer models, because gold was cheaper in the '80s. On newer models, there are trace amounts of gold on the processor pins, on the RAM and maybe a trace of gold on the motherboard. The amount is so minute that she couldn't even estimate a value. And you can't just scrape the gold off with razor blade. It must be refined with heat, chemicals or both. A fairly costly endeavor that is not feasible unless you are recycling literal TONS of computer parts.
So, no. Your old crappy computer has very little gold value. Recycling companies (including Yellowstone E-Waste) will not pay you for them. Kolbi told me they while they do eventually make a couple of bucks on tons and tons of computer components, they lose money on all the printers and scanners they accept, that are virtually worthless. Kind of a wash.
However, you absolutely should drop off old electronics to be recycled, instead of just tossing them in the dumpster. Most electronics (including phones, computers, TV's, etc) have all kinds of nasty chemicals like arsenic in them than could eventually leach into groundwater. Kobli said the best advice for being environmentally friendly when dealing with electronics is keeping them as long as feasible. Makes sense to me.