Recycling mobile phones is a big business, not only for the financial benefits. This is because it ensures that dangerous chemicals do not reach landfill sites and that material resources are also preserved.
Without a doubt, the mobile phone industry is one of the world’s most competitive, as indicated by consumer behavior such as is the case in the UK where handsets are replaced at most every 18 months.
Just over a decade ago, only about 50% of adults in the UK owned a mobile phone, but more recent studies show that more than 90 percent of people 16 years and over have at least one phone. Interestingly, though, there are more phones than people in the UK, since the population of 63 million have 81.6 million mobile phone subscriptions, meaning that quite a number of people own 2 phones or more.
The trend is similar around the world, with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) stating in a report that the number of phone subscriptions the world over would reach six billion. When compared with the global population of about seven billion, which means the number of phone subscriptions is nearly the same as the population.
Also, it is estimated that about 90 million phones are lying unused in the UK. This is where recycling becomes important, with used, old or even non-functional mobile phones eligible for recycling so that metals and other resources can be reused.
Nokia state that only 3% of people recycle unwanted phones around the world, with almost 50% unaware that mobile phones can be sold to be recycled. Recycling is important because when phones end up in landfills or are not properly disposed of, they create toxic substances which could leech into groundwater and viable soil to pose a health risk to humans and damage the environment. It is also estimated that 70% of heavy metals found in landfills are from unwanted electronics.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that just 12 million out of 141 million discarded phones were submitted for recycling. This means that the remaining 129 million are probably still lost in lockers or drawers or maybe even dumped on landfills, and resulting in serious damage. Dangerous heavy metals are not the only constituents of mobile phones as they also contain valuable materials like gold, silver and platinum. With the retrieval of some of these valuable materials, resources can be preserved and thus reduce mining.