Most of us have one of those drawers filled with old and broken electronics and other miscellaneous bits and pieces of crap you’re probably never going to need or use again.

One thing that definitely shouldn’t be heading to the junk drawer for the rest of your days is your old phone.

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Image from here

It’s estimated that there are a staggering 23 million unused phones in Australia. With only 15% of people actually recycling their phones, this is a major contributor to Australia’s growing e-waste problem.

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The scale of Australia’s e-waste problem is a huge worry (Image from here)

Mobile phones are made of a lot of different components, including expensive and rare metals.  Although the quantities in individual phones are small, for every million mobile phones, there’s approximately 30 kg of gold, 300 kg of silver, and 10 tonnes of copper. It makes sense both environmentally and economically to ‘mine’ old phones for resources rather than the ground don’t you think?   Especially considering over 90% of plastics and metals can be recovered from old phones, and used to create all sorts of new products.

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Common phone components (Image from here)

If you don’t recycle your phone, not only are you missing an opportunity to decrease demand for resources,  but if your phone ends up in landfill it can cause all sorts of damage to the environment.  Chemicals and metals like lead, mercury, lithium, cadmium, antimony and arsenic are all found in phones, all toxic, all non-degrading, and all bio-accumulating. This means that as the chemicals leach into soils and water, they enter the food chain and increase in toxicity over time. Not good.

 

 

On top of all the usual issues with mining, some phones also contain a mineral called coltan, 80% of which is mined from rainforests in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are a whole list of disturbing reasons why this should not be happening. Coltan is known as a ‘conflict mineral’, whose illegal trade is run by armed rebels and gangsters, contributing to civil unrest in the DRC. The illegally mined product is then sold to big tech companies, who ensure the cycle of illegal mining and exploitation continues.  You can read more about that here.

In addition to these social and political problems,  coltan mining has resulted in extreme deforestation in the DRC’s ‘national parks’, and is a key cause of a 77% decline in Grauer’s Gorilla population, a critically endangered primate. This is because the isolation of coltan mines causes workers to rely on bushmeat as a food source.

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Grauer’s Gorrilla, threatened by an increase in bushmeat hunting (Image from IUCN)

So, how do you recycle your phone?

In Australia, recycling your phone is extremely easy through the organisation Mobile Muster. There are 3,500 collection points across the country, so chances are there’s one near you.

You can also send them off in pre-paid mailing satchels that usually come in the box with your new phone, or you can pick one up at any Australia Post.  Include any phone batteries, chargers and accessories – just make sure you read the safety instructions regarding lose batteries. In case you’re wondering, the satchels are make from 100% recyclable plastics.

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Yes, this was my last phone.  I resisted a smartphone for as long as possible!

Mobile Muster is currently partnering with Take 3 for the Sea, a company which helps remove plastic from the oceans, to try and collect 30,000 mobiles, and 100,000 pieces of plastic from the ocean by the end of February. So you’ve got two days to help them reach their target…get it done today!

Remember – resources recovered from recycled phones means less resources mined from our environment.

Got other types of e-waste? Check out this website to find out where to recycle them responsibly.

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Ready to go!

 

References

Mobile Muster

Unused Phone Statistics 

Materials in phones

Coltan Mining

Grauer’s Gorilla