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Mobile Phone Recycling

By Melissa Kane, Eco-warrior mum

I love spy shows, but every time there is a ‘secret mission within a mission’ I begin to tense, not because I’m afraid my favourite character is about to die, but because they inevitably smash their phones to prevent being followed. I cringe every time, don’t they realise how wasteful they are!

In this digital age electronic waste (e-waste) is huge and Australians commonly update their phone on average every 12 to 24 months (even if it is still working well). This is about 1 million new phones per month. I have recently updated mine after two years (it was not working well anymore) which brings me to what to do with it?

Firstly, it should be said it is preferable to reduce your e-waste by using it until it doesn’t work anymore, this is the least environmental impact (don’t even get me started on the fact they are engineered not to last).

Clean up Australia has a program to reuse your phone, if it is still working the phone is refurbished and sent for reuse in countries, which can benefit from cheaper phones. By reusing a phone they are extending the life of that mobile by up to 5 -7 years. Reusing is preferable to recycling because it takes more energy and resources to make a new one than to reuse one.

Mobile phones are made up of a few toxic substances including arsenic, beryllium, cadium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc. These poisonous substances can leach from decomposing waste in landfill and seep into groundwater, contaminate the soil and enter into the food chain, there must be a third option for the phones that don’t work.

There is a program called Mobile Muster which has heaps of drop-off points all over the region including Australia Post, local councils and Officeworks. Most phone distributors also accept phones as well.

The components are broken into four groups: batteries, plastics, circuits and chargers/accessories. From these the following is extracted plastics, gold, copper, lithium and cobalt. Some of the things made from these materials are stainless steel, plastic fence posts, pallets and batteries.

Your next question, if you’re thinking like a spy, is what about the private information on my phone? Two steps to protect yourself, delete all the information on your sim card because that is recyclable too and for the information stored on the phone, most phones have a factory reset or something similar, which will delete all the information stored on the phone. Problem solved.

Maybe you could make it your “mission” this weekend to find your old phones and make a great choice as to what to do with them!