Recently, I was astonished to learn there are nearly 49 million old or unused mobile phones left and forgotten in the corners of UK households. What was even more surprising for me was that the commercial value of these items exceeds £1 billion. At the exchange rate of £1 = $1.59, this is $1.59 billion. That is quite a waste of resources, given the difficult global economic climate.
According to new research conducted by CompareMyMobile.com, an independent price comparison Website for mobile phone recycling, 50 percent of UK homes have one unused handset, while 14 percent of households have four or more handsets sitting in the dust in a cupboard.
The picture is not different in the rest of the world either. Australians have a stock of 10 million unused phones. In the US, people replace their cellphones every 18 months, and a total of 100 million cellphones are discarded each year, but only 20 percent of these get recycled. The estimated number of old phones in the US today is around 1 billion. The Chinese renew their mobile phones every 15 months, and only 1 percent of disposed mobile phones get recycled. According to another survey where 6,500 people were interviewed in 13 countries including Finland, Germany, Italy, Russia, Sweden, UAE, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, only 3 percent of the people recycle their phones.
One worrying fact is that most of the discarded phones end up in landfill, as people do not realize the commercial value of old handsets. The truth is that old mobile phones could be worth anywhere between $75 and $150. It must also be remembered that a mobile phone contains valuable rare metals such as gold, platinum, and palladium. To put this into perspective, one ton of handsets contains nearly 300 grams of gold, 150 grams of platinum and palladium, as well as 70 kilograms of copper! Here is another striking fact: The approximately 400 million phones discarded globally yield enough gold content to make 1.5 million gold rings. Therefore, the commercial justification of recycling is obvious.
Besides the financial loss, phones ending up in landfill cause significant concern from an environmental perspective. Mobile phones contain high concentrations of toxic metals such as nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, arsenic, and cadmium — the seventh most dangerous substance in the world. Such metals are dangerous because they do not biodegrade in the environment and tend to build up in fatty tissue, gradually reaching toxic levels. You can read more about the environmental aspects of mobile phones here. Given all these facts, recycling mobile phones is the only sensible option.
It must be remembered that the majority of a mobile phone is recyclable. The plastic parts that cannot be recycled are burnt to contribute to the energy required for the recycling process. Other non-recyclable parts are ground into chips to be used as construction materials or for road building. This comprehensive process ensures that nothing from a mobile phone ends up in landfill.
If recycling a mobile phone is such a good thing then why doesn’t everyone do it? The reasons vary. Almost half of the population is not even aware that recycling a phone is possible. Over 65 percent of people do not know how to recycle a mobile phone, while over 70 percent do not know where they can get their old mobile phone recycled. Although 72 percent of the people think that recycling helps the environment, 74 percent of consumers never think about recycling their phones.
Here is another figure I find really interesting and would like to share here: If each of the 3 billion mobile phone users brought back one unused handset, 240,000 tons of raw materials could be saved, which yields the same greenhouse gas reduction as taking 4 million cars off the road!
I am sure after reading the above most of you will feel the urge to recycle your unused phones. However, before you do, I must add one important reminder: For peace of mind, make sure you delete all your contacts, pictures, video clips, and other personal information from your old phone before you give it away for recycling. Most recycling centers even provide a service to help you delete your personal data for a range of different brands. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also provides a guideline for disposing of your old mobile phones, which you may find useful.
While writing this article, I also noticed an old iPaq phone I have been saving for a rainy day for the last two years on one of my dusty shelves. I think I will take it to a nearby recycling centre to clear my shelf — as well as my conscience after having published this piece!
Have you also spotted any unused mobile phones around you, and if so, what are you planning to do with them?