. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cellphones Stripped for Gold by the Ton

Humans may or may not have life after death, but cellphones do. Up to 20 tons of cellular handsets are recycled in Moscow every month.

Major cellular operators in the city send used handsets they have accumulated at their sales and service centers to an ecological center at Moscow state enterprise Promotkhody, which takes orders for the unpopular, outdated phones they can no longer sell.

"[We recycle] everything that cannot be sold anymore," Vimpelcom spokesman Artyom Minayev said. "It's a regular procedure for a cellular operator like us to write off old phones and then send them for recycling," he added.

Since Muscovites update their phones once a year -- more often than Europeans -- a huge quantity of overstock is regularly jettisoned.

"The maximum order can reach up to 40 tons," Vasily Suranovich, head of the ecological center, said in a telephone interview.

The facility, which is located in the southeast of Moscow on 1 hectare of land, began to recycle cellular phones last December, when a new equipment line was installed. Before that, Suranovich said, cellular phones were simply buried on large fields outside Moscow after service centers manually extracted components made from gold for further use.

As the number of outdated handsets soars, it has become impossible to manually dismantle phones in such volumes, Suranovich said.

Old handsets are first broken down into tiny pieces between half a millimeter to 5 millimeters in size. These bits are then sorted by weight and other parameters on a special vibrating table. The process splits every handset into 10 or more components, including gold, silver, platinum metals, nonferrous metals and plastic. Most of these can then be used again in the production of new handsets.

The center recycles more than handsets. In a similar way, it also dismantles personal computers and servers, mainly supplied by big Western computer companies working in Moscow, as well as telephones, fax and copy machines, printers, cameras and film.

Given the government's recent anti-piracy campaign launched against vendors of counterfeit compact discs, DVDs and video cassettes, the center is guaranteed a steady stream of orders.

Over the last few months, the recycling facility has destroyed large amounts of pirated audio and video products confiscated from illegal vendors, Suranovich said.