urban miner
n. A person or company that extracts metals from discarded electronics.
urban mining pp.

Example Citations:
Business owner Jerry Shelfer and his wife, Michelle, started Hi-Tec Recycling in 2003, gathering up discarded computers, monitors and other electronic gear before they enter landfills. ... Calling himself an "urban miner," Shelfer says everything from the memory chips in computers to the copper wiring in cables has some value.
—Tom Abate, "'Urban Miner' extracts revenue from discarded electronics," The San Francisco Chronicle, August 15, 2010

"Electronics are filled with hazardous materials, like mercury, lead, cadmium, palladium, platinum, arsenic and other metals," he said. "If we keep this stuff above ground and handle it right and we can commoditize it. We've become the new urban miners of the world."
—Al Gibes, "E-recycler sees pieces of prosperity in obsolete gadgets," Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 13, 2010

Earliest Citation:
Saburo Masaoka is an urban miner for the new millennium, panning for gold in the ditches of the information superhighway....Every cell phone contains a minute quantity of gold, which is used to fix silicon chips to the phone's computer circuit board. It's such a small amount that it takes 70,000 phones to yield a one-kilogram (2.2 pound) bar of gold, which sells for about $ 10,000.
—Kevin Sullivan, "Finding a Golden Opportunity in Cell Phones," The Washington Post, December 28, 1998

The term urban miner has been around for quite a while, and in its earliest incarnations it referred to people who used city dumpsters and garbage cans to scrounge for materials, particularly metals. Here's the earliest cite I could find for this sense of the term:

If Ed Fitzgerald needs something, he heads for the trash. ... "I've never bought a lawn mower in the 10 years I've been in Montana." He has just published 500 copies of NADDUM News...(NADDUM is short for the National Association of Dumpster Divers and Urban Miners.)
—"Always down in the dumps," Chicago Tribune, May 8, 1990

For what it's worth, here's an even earlier cite, a snippet from a book that unfortunately gives no clue to how the phrase is being used:

Alvarez struck up a conversation with some of these "urban miners." He complimented them on the orderliness and what he called the "rationality" of the system. "Yes. And there seems to be considerably less waste," Morris added.
—Robert Nichols, Garh City, New Directions Publishing, February 1, 1978

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