Since I'm still getting to know the world of sustainable living, recycling, scrapping, and everything related to that - I would be very grateful if someone gave me a few pieces of advice.

I would like to know what is the most valuable thing I should look for when scrapping electronics. I do understand that various materials can be found in different objects, but it's still unclear to me what objects can yield as great results as to be considered "Holy Grails" of e-scrapping - are those TVs, computers, cell phones, chargers, or what...

Also, I have a question regarding scrapping cell phone chargers & headsets. Recently I have come across a bag containing a bunch of cell phone chargers, headsets, a variety of cables, etc. My first thought had been to cut the cables in order to look for copper only, and there I was - stripping cables for copper, when a thought popped up in my mind - should I somehow separate copper I stumble upon (for instance - low grade, high grade)?

Nevertheless, when I stripped one particular cell phone charger (cable of the charger) - wires inside were "silverish", if you know what I mean. Is that aluminum, or what? I am also wondering what should I do with the "insulation" (looks like rubber to me, but I suppose it's some kind of plastic material - anyway "the tube" where the copper wires are located)?

I also realised that there are also other materials to look for, besides copper - probably aluminum, but maybe even silver or gold? And where are those located?

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    That's a lot of questions. You might want to split them up to get better answers and avoid this question from being closed as too broad. May I suggest one question on the most valuable materials in electronics, and one (or more) question(s) specifically about the cell phone chargers you are stripping. – THelper Jan 4 '16 at 15:09
  • BTW platinum and gold are the first that come to mind. Rare earth metals (often found in computers and cell phones) probably also, but those are much more difficult to extract. – THelper Jan 4 '16 at 15:13
  • Yes, I definitely have lots of questions. Anyway, I suppose it's moderators' duty to split them up, or should it be myself editing this one while creating other separate questions on the other side? – Borivoje Petrovic Jan 4 '16 at 16:24
  • It would be best if you edit and split up the questions yourself. I've placed the question on hold for now because you already have one answer which addresses the copper wires. That's also why I suggest you edit this question and make it about the things your are stripping so the answer is still appropriate. – THelper Jan 5 '16 at 16:19
  • We'll reopen this question once you've edited it. – THelper Jan 6 '16 at 8:09

Copper cable can usually be recycled, and industrial processes are more likely to be able to take care of the insulation than you are. This is likely to be true for other materials as well (the amount of gold in contact plating is very small, but it's still significant in terms of value).

For electronic devices, the recycling processes tend to be dirty and low tech (e.g. gold is recovered by hand-dipping in mercury baths) and involve shipping across the world. This might make it sound like anything you could do would be an improvement, but in fact you probably couldn't do any better without significant investment, and then what would you do withthe recovered materials.

Much better would be to look into reuse, even if only of components. Some things may actually be useful as they are, others may be broken or terminally obsolete. In this case older stuff can often be better, as modern electronics tends to use surface-mount components and microcontrollers, both of which are hard to do anything with. Using junk-box components first to learn some skills, then for repairing broken hardware, is probably the best you can hope for. I've known people who have made reasonable amounts of money repairing elctronic products, and also keeping them out of landfill. Their approach has typically been to concentrate on a few similar products, and reckon that for buying 3-4 broken units and a few parts, they might get 2 working units for sale. The rest ends up being disposed of through the least worst route (around here hardware can be recycled by taking it to a municipal facility).

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