NOVA Next writer Marcus Woo's article on recycling cellphones -- to combat the global generation of electronic waste that was estimated at 92.1 billion pounds in 2014 -- included a conversation with Critical Materials Institute Director Alex King. According to King, while it's possible to recycle all the materials in an iPhone, it may not be feasible.
The issue isn’t chemistry or engineering; rather, it’s economics. It simply might not be worthwhile to extract such small amounts of metal. The process will probably cost more in energy and labor than the value of whatever bit of material you recover. So to recycle every element in an iPhone won’t be economical or practical. “They would be very lucky to be able to recycle a third of the elements in the phone,” King says.