As of 2016, Australia is one of the world’s top ten consumers of electronic goods. We have around 29 million mobile phone subscribers; about nine million new handsets are shipped to us every year, and we typically recycle our phones every 18 to 24 months. Depending upon how you look at it, that’s either a lot of waste or a great opportunity.
Nickel. Mercury. Lead. Cadmium. All these elements are inside a smartphone and none of them should ever make it to landfill. Throw a phone in the bin and it could wind up in the earth, as metals slowly seep into the soil and water table. Steve Manning, CEO of US-based mobile phone reseller ReCellular put it best: “One cell phone in the trash isn’t a big deal. 100 million in the trash is an environmental disaster.”
The good news? Over 90% of materials used in mobile phones are recyclable. This includes plastic, metals, glass and ceramics. To do the right thing, and give your phone a second life, you just need to know where to go.
Fence posts, stainless steel, batteries: these are just some of the things your old phone might become.
In Australia, Mobile Muster offers a range of free smartphone recycling services for the 25 million defunct mobiles they estimate are sitting in homes around Australia. Post it in, drop it off, or book a pickup – it’s that simple. Once received, phone parts are sorted into batteries, plastics, circuits and accessories; the components extracted and sent off to various manufacturers for recycling or repurposing. So feel free to rummage in your desk drawer and give your old sidekick a new life.
— Planet Ark (@PlanetArk) August 23, 2016
Give it to charity
If your old smartphone still works, it could be ‘like new’ to someone in need. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Material Aid program accepts old mobile phones (and chargers) to help ASRC members stay in touch with their case workers, communicate with mentors, and look for employment.
Associations such as CanTeen, WaterAid, and Kidney Health Australia also take old phones, which are either refurbished and resold to help raise funds or recycled responsibly.
There are also phone recyclers serving a range of charities. Aussie Recycle Program accepts old phones and distributes the money raised by reselling them to over 60 affiliated charities, including the Red Cross, Lifeline, and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance.
Help gorillas. Reduce mining
Zoos Victoria’s ‘They’re Calling on You’ campaign accepts old and unwanted phones, which are then refurbished and sold. All proceeds go to towards primate conservation in partnership with Gorilla Doctors, who work to provide medical care to wild gorillas in Africa. Currently, it’s estimated that just 880 Mountain Gorillas remain in the African jungles around Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coltan, a metal used in mobile phones, is also mined in these countries near gorilla habitats, putting them at risk. By recycling the metal in your old phone, you do your bit to reduce the demand.
Feeling crafty? There are plenty of ways to repurpose your old mobile around the home. This list from TIME includes using it as a smart home controller, turning it into a kid-safe play phone, morphing it into a home phone, or using it as a baby monitor. With so many options, there’s no excuse for not recycling your old mate. Just don’t forget to wipe your personal data off it first.
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