Mobile phone recycling

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Scrapped mobile phones.

Mobile phones are able to be recycled at the end of their life.

Rapid technology change, low initial cost, and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus, which contributes to the increasing amount of electronic waste around the globe. Recyclers consider electronic waste a "rapidly expanding" issue.[1] In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics,[2] while electronic waste represents only 2% of America's trash in landfills.[3]

Mobile phones are "considered hazardous waste" in California; many chemicals in such phones leach from landfills into the groundwater system.[4] Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace claims that the soldering of the iPhone battery into its handset hinders its being recycled. It also states that its scientists found toxic phthalates on iPhone cables, and it holds that this contravenes California's Proposition 65, which requires warning labels on products exposing consumers to phthalates.[5]

Because the United States has not ratified the Basel Convention or its Ban Amendment, and has no domestic laws forbidding the export of toxic waste, the Basel Action Network estimates that about 80% of the electronic waste directed to recycling in the U.S. does not get recycled there at all, but is put on container ships and sent to countries such as China.[6][7][8][9] Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, and Delhi and Bangalore in India, have electronic waste processing areas.[6][10][11]


Americans toss millions of cell phones each year in favor of newer technology—and all those discarded phones may be taking a toll on the environment. Electronic scrap accounts for 70% of the overall toxic waste currently found in landfills.[12] According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 141 million mobile phones were discarded in 2009 and only 12 million of those were collected for recycling.[13]

A cell phone’s shelf life is only about 24 months for the average consumer.[14] This means that newer cell phone models are constantly put up on the market to replace older ones. This is as a result of the rapid progression of technology in the mobile industry. According to Matt Ployhar of Intel, the industry is rapidly evolving, possibly even at “Moore's law pace or faster.”[15] This means that newer cell phone models are continually on the rise of consumerism and more outdated models are likely to end up in landfills.

Most cell phones contain precious metals and plastics that can be recycled to save energy and resources that would otherwise be required to mine or manufacture. When placed in a landfill, these materials can pollute the air and contaminate soil and drinking water.[16] Cell phone coatings are typically made of lead, which is a toxic chemical that can result in adverse health effects when exposed to it in high levels. The circuit board on cell phones can be made of copper, gold, lead, zinc, beryllium, tantalum, coltan, and other raw materials that would require significant resources to mine and manufacture.[17] This is why it is important to recycle old cell phones and source these increasingly scarce materials whenever possible.

Electronic waste (e-waste) is a global problem; especially since many developed countries, including the U.S., ship their discarded electronic devices to less developed parts of the world. Oftentimes, the e-waste is improperly dismantled and burned, producing toxic emissions harmful to waste site workers, children, and nearby communities. Therefore, it is important for cell phone users to dispose of and recycle their devices responsibly and ethically.

Recycling canteen[edit]

EcoATM, founded in 2008 by serial entrepreneurs Mark Bowles, Seth Heine and Michael Librizzi,[18] is the first phone-recycling kiosk. They maintain a database of more than 4,000 mint-condition handsets. After connecting with an appropriate cable, the machine will scrutinize the condition of the phones, offer to erase the data and dispense cash based on the resale value. As of 2010 10 ecoATMs had already recycled 33,000 phones with average payout $9 per phone, and 500 more kiosks were planned.[19] As of May 2013 there are 350 ecoATMs in 24 states, with two more installed per day and plans for international expansion. The company resells 75 percent of the devices to refurbishers; the rest go to e-waste recyclers who are certified by R2 Solutions or e-Stewards industry standards. EcoATM is San Diego-based[18] and since July 2013 owned by Outerwall, Inc..[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prashant, Nitya (2008-08-20). "Cash For Laptops Offers 'Green' Solution for Broken or Outdated Computers". Green Technology (Norwalk, Connecticut: Technology Marketing Corporation). Retrieved 2009-03-17.  In "Opinion". National Center For Electronics Recycling News Summary (National Center For Electronics Recycling). 2008-08-28. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  2. ^ Silicon Valley Toxic Corporation. "Poison PCs/Toxic TVs Executive Summary". Retrieved 2006-11-13. [dead link]
  3. ^ Slade, Giles (2007-04-01). "iWaste". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2007-04-03. 
  4. ^ Judkis, Maura (2008-07-30). "4 Ways to Earn Cash for Recycling". Fresh Greens. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  5. ^ Greenop, Matt (2007-10-18). "Greenpeace slams Apple over 'toxic' iPhone". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  6. ^ a b Basel Action Network and Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (2002-02-25). "Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia" (PDF). Seattle and San Jose. 
  7. ^ Chea, Terence (2007-11-18). "America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas". Associated Press. 
  8. ^ Slade, Giles (2006). "Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America.". Harvard University Press. 
  9. ^ Carroll (January 2008). "High-Tech Trash". National Geographic Magazine Online. 
  10. ^ "Activists Push for Safer E-Recycling". Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  11. ^ "Computer age leftovers". Denver Post. Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  12. ^ "Waste Press delete". Clean Aid Council. 
  13. ^ "Why Recycle My Mobile Device?". EARTHWORKS Recycle My Cell Phone. [dead link]
  14. ^ The Daily Green Staff. "Recycle Your Cell Phone". The Daily Green. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  15. ^ Evans, Johnny. "Is the iPhone evolving faster than Moore's Law?". ComputerWorld. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  16. ^ Bozowi. "Being Responsible". Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  17. ^ Parker Price |, Erika. "Recycling Cell Phones". Going Green Today. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  18. ^ a b Duncan, Katherine (May 23, 2013). "The Serial Entrepreneur Who Is Tackling E-Waste With EcoATMs (100 Brilliant Companies)". Entrepreneur (magazine). Retrieved December 14, 2013. 
  19. ^ "ecoATM". Popular Science. 2010. Retrieved December 14, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Coinstar rebrands as Outerwall, acquires phone recycling startup ecoATM for $350M". VentureBeat. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Geyer, Roland; Vered Doctori Blass (2009). "The economics of cell phone reuse and recycling". The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology 47 (5-8): 515–525. doi:10.1007/s00170-009-2228-z. ISSN 0268-3768. 
  • J.D.Lincoln;O.A.Ogunseitan;J.-D.Saphores;A.A.Shapiro (2007). "Leaching Assessments of Hazardous Materials in Cellular Telephones". Environmental Science and Technology 41 (7): 2572–2578. doi:10.1021/es0610479. 
  • O.A.Ogunseitan (2013). "The Basel Convention and E-Waste: Translation of Scientific Uncertainty to Protective Policy". The Lancet - Global Health 1 (6): e313–e314. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(13)70110-4. 

External links[edit]