11:32 am - Monday May 28, 2012

Mobile Phone Recycling

Mobile Phone RecyclingWe cannot, in all good conscience, publish a buyer’s guide recommending that you buy new handsets as gifts for loved ones (or even yourself) without recommending what to do with the old models. If the phone being replaced is new enough, you can always sell it off or hand it down to a deserving friend or family member who could use a newer model. However at some point in the hand-me-down chain, there is an old phone that is either going to collect dust in a drawer, or worse, wind up in the trash. It’s these phones that we’re after.

Experts estimate 55-100 million mobile phones will be retired this year. Despite the growing number of phones being recycled year after year, it is still less than 5% of replaced handsets. Unfortunately, far more (about 25%) are estimated to wind up in the landfill. The rest are handed down or laid to rest in a closet or drawer.

Whatever you do, please don’t throw that old cell phone away, no matter how old and busted it is. Like many other modern electronic devices, phones contain circuits boards, batteries and LCD that each contain a number of harmful materials in them. When phones are dumped in landfills, these elements eventually break down and leech out into the environment. Lead, Cadmium and Mercury pollution could potentially cause deadly side effects and are the primary reason why states like California have made cell phone recycling mandatory for any retailers that sell mobile phones. Sadly, the heaps of obsolete computer equipment have a greater negative impact on the environment than phones, so we encourage you to look into recycling old CPUs and monitors as well as your handsets.

There is an even deadlier reason why it is critical that old phones don’t get tossed away- people are literally dying for them. The legacy of “blood diamonds” is well known, however the fact that a similar arrangement exists to mine coltan (Columbium Tantalum) is lesser known. Tantalum is a superconductor, one of the best on Earth. It is used to coat capacitors to help them create more power from less energy so that your cell phone no longer needs a battery larger than the phone itself. In war torn central Africa, people are forced into modern day slavery to mine this rare element, which is then sold to fund the wars in this region. Recently the majority of Tantalum production has shifted to Australia, however it is a rare element, so decreasing demand helps decrease the likelihood that manufacturers will turn to African supplies.

Sadly, it is very difficult to reclaim Tantalum once it has been manufactured into an electronic component. Because of this, and these other environmental factors, we strongly recommend that no matter how you choose to get rid of your phone, you donate it to an organization that will make all efforts to re-use it rather than simply “safely disposing” of it. Luckily current economics dictate that it is more lucrative to refurbish phones rather than safely recycle them.

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