Materials we treat

Umicore is a world leader in the eco-efficient recycling of a wide range of electronic materials. This means achieving the environmental and economic balance in recycling. It entails maximizing both the physical recycling of metals (or other materials) and the revenue obtained, while minimizing the associated environmental burden and total cost. An eco-efficient process also considers the "environmental fingerprint" of materials, i.e. how much negative environmental impact can be saved by recycling, for example, a metal instead of producing it "new" by mining. Due to the considerable (environmental) impact of turning precious metals from low grade ores into pure metals, a high overall recycling yield of them has not merely economic benefits, but also substantial ecological advantages (recycling 1 kg of gold is much more beneficial, both financially and ecologically, than recycling 1 kg of iron). In a purely weight-based calculation of recycling-rates, this effect is not considered properly.

High value to low value material

Please be aware that "low" and "high" value are relative terms only, and even a "high value" electronic scrap is low value compared with e.g. a precious metal catalyst. The following examples give some general indications for typical material categories:

  • low value: TV-boards, monitor boards, printer boards, cordless phones, calculators, shredded bulk material after Al-/Fe-separation, etc.
  • medium value: PC-boards, laptop-and handheld-computer circuit boards, etc.
  • high value: Circuit boards from mainframes, mobile phones, ICs, MLCCs 

Production residues to end-of-life streams (e.g. printed circuit boards)

Typical materials are populated or unpopulated circuit boards with or without precious metals, punchings and lead frames containing precious metals, multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCC), ICs, etc, but also small devices like mobile phones, calculators, etc.

We can guarantee controlled and well-documented destruction and recycling, as well as safety measures ruling out any unwanted re-use of parts or misuse of confidential data.  Prior to sampling, the material is stored in a secured area. All information provided is kept strictly confidential. All material streams are traceable and can be demonstrated to our suppliers transparently.

HINT: Please keep different categories of production residues separate in order to facilitate optimum sampling and treatment. Please provide indicative information on the quantities and quality of your production scrap and end-of-life streams when requesting a quotation for recycling.

Minimum quantities depend on category and quality; please contact us for details.

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) = Printed wiring boards (PWBs) / Fractions containing printed circuit boards

These are typically categorized into different qualities, depending on their gold content:

  • very high grade: gold content of minimum 400 ppm
  • high grade: gold content of minimum 200 ppm
  • medium grade : gold content of minimum 100 ppm
  • low grade: gold content of minimum 50 ppm
  • very low grade: gold content lower than 50 ppm

HINT: Remove large Al/Fe-parts but be careful - especially in case of shredding and sorting - not to lose valuable (precious) metals in side streams. For high and medium grade boards avoid pre-treatment and ship them as they are.

Components like ICs to small entire devices (e.g. mobile phones)

ICs, multi-layer ceramic capacitors, transistors... whether derived from end-of-life materials or production scrap (see above). We will homogenize, sample and accurately analyze your materials prior to treating them in our state-of-the-art recovery processes.

HINT: Do not unnecessarily mix PM-containing with non-PM components. Try to avoid presence of large aluminium or steel parts, since these increase processing costs. However, when removing these parts, make sure you do not co-seperate precious metals. 

From an eco-efficiency perspective the best option is - after removal of the batteries - to treat such material directly in our integrated smelter/refinery without prior shredding and sorting into various fractions. By this direct treatment, otherwise inevitable losses of valuable metals into side streams (Fe-, Al-, plastics-fraction) can be safely avoided and additional pre-treatment costs are saved. Usually, in mobile phones or similar small devices the intrinsic economic and environmental value of the precious metals and copper far exceeds the value of the iron and aluminium they contain. In addition, their plastic parts cannot be recycled economically (mixed types, polluted by pigments and flame retardants, high separation costs). Our integrated smelting/refining process recovers numerous metals from mobile phones (incl. Sn, Pb, In, ...) and makes use of the reducing potential and the energy content of the plastics, while safely complying with the strictest emission regulations.

For low value material, a gate fee is possible. This can still be more cost- and environmental efficient than shredding, sorting and treatment of the various material fractions

HINT: Prior to shipment remove batteries of small devices and keep these separate. Umicore can also offer dedicated recycling solutions for Lithium-Ion and Nickel-Metal hydride batteries. For more details, have a look on our Batteries section.

There is, however, no general solution. Most brown and grey goods like computers require pre-treatment such as manual dismantling and/or mechanical breaking up and sorting of fractions. Make sure the pre-treatment facility operates in an environmental-compliant and efficient way, including the handling of the various fractions produced.


Plastics with residual metal to metallic granule fractions

Mixed plastics with residual metal

In mechanical shredding and sorting processes for e-scrap (pre-treatment), large volumes of various mixed plastic fractions are usually generated. Often it is not economically viable to separate these further and recover the various types of plastic. The most common outlets for these mixed fractions - landfill and incineration plants - are becoming increasingly restricted and costly given recent legislative developments. Furthermore, all residual metals still contained in them would inevitably be lost. Separating residual metals by mechanical means can become quite costly while generating only little additional metal value.

Umicore can process such fractions, recovering copper, precious metals and many other metals contained whilst partly replacing coke and fuel used in the recovery process. This is only possible thanks to the sophisticated off-gas and water purification equipment installed at the Hoboken facility, safely preventing the emission of dioxins, furans or other harmful elements. Up to a certain range this process is able to handle bromine and other halogens, which are often present in these plastic fractions as flame retardants.

Depending on quantity and composition, Umicore can offer an environmentally sound treatment of such fractions for a gate fee or else - if the metal content allows – payment can be made, based on assays.

HINT: Please provide typical samples of your metal-contaminated mixed plastic fractions with an indication of respective volumes. For the calculation of the economic viability of your different outlet options, include your internal costs arising from preparing/separating the material as well as those from disposing of the various side streams.

Metallic granule fractions

These fractions can be generated after shredding and granulation of production scraps as well as end-of-life material streams.

HINT: Watch out for excessive pre-processing, as this not only could entail additional costs, but might also lead to substantial losses of (precious) metals, as well as the generation of fractions that could no longer be commercialized. For advice, please contact us.

"Commodities" to complex materials containing elements of interest
These dusts are generated during shredding, milling and other pre-treatment processes. For environmental reasons they must be carefully collected in filter and bag-house systems. They can have a relatively high (precious) metal content, but also significant amounts of pollutants as well as high burn-loss constituents like plastics, paper and wood.

Depending on the quantity and composition of these dusts, Umicore can offer an environmentally sound treatment against a gate fee or else - if the metal content allows - make a payment based on assays..

HINT: Please provide typical samples of your dusts with an indication of respective volumes. Keep dusts of different origins separate and ask for our specific refining quotation. Pelletization/Bricketing of the dust can facilitate sampling and treatment.


We source our materials on a worldwide basis from Asia/Australia and across Europe to the Americas. 

We provide customized solutions to manufacturers, collectors, pre-processors and other stakeholders in the electronics lifecycle, making use of a network of global sales offices and partners.