Mining for old phones
Getting back precious metals from old mobile phones. That’s just one of the benefits of putting an end to “mobile phone hoarding”. One tonne of mobile phone circuit boards can yield the same amount of precious metals as 110 tonnes of gold ore, 123 tonnes of silver bearing ore and 11 tonnes of copper sulphide ore.
In fact, according to Mobile Muster, the official recycling body for the Australian Mobile phone industry, over 90% of the materials in mobile phones can be recovered and used as raw materials for new products. These include:
• Batteries contain nickel which can be used to make stainless steel, as well as cobalt and cadmium to make new batteries.
• Circuit boards include small amounts of gold and silver that is used in jewellery.
• Handset housings and casings include plastics that are shredded and used to make fence posts and pallets.
• Accessories are made of plastics and metals that can be shredded, sorted and then used to make new plastic or metal products.
Even armed with all this information, we as consumers, still tend to keep hold of old phones rather than handing them back. For example, although more than 7 million mobile handsets are sold in Australia each year, only about 8% are returned.
Where are they all?
In Australia, Mobile Muster estimates that:
• the number of mobile phones stored in cupboards and drawers at over 16 million,
• 31% of mobile phone users have 2 or more old mobiles at home, and that
• 70% have 1 old mobile at home.
As one of my colleagues from the recycling industry has told me “we know that users are creatures of comfort and since they don’t take up the space of say an old TV or a monitor, it is not that hard to not throw them [used phones] away. People have many excuses, including keeping it as an extra, downloading old contacts, etc”.
What can you do about it?
This is something we can all get involved in to help make the industry more sustainable and we know what to do to make it happen. Start by taking old phones stuffed in your bottom drawer, or thrown in an old storage container in the garage or shed, and return them!
I’d like your views on old phone collections in your organisation – please take the straw poll below.
Complete the collecting and recycling used mobile phones survey.
Once you’ve completed it, see what others have to say by viewing the survey background results.
- Mobile Muster – official recycling program of the mobile phone industry
- Mobile Muster Quick Facts – all about the Mobile Muster program
- Mobile Muster – locate your nearest drop off point
- Join the latest Mobile Muster campaign – donate your old phones for ducks (yes Ducks)
- For another perspective on phone recycling and e-waste see the Total Environment Centre website.