The benefits of mobile recycling need to be given greater attention in order to encourage more people to dispose of their used electronics responsibly.
This is according to new research by environmental engineering consultancy IPPTS Associates, which published a new infographic detailing the current state of mobile recycling in the UK.
On average, 6,000 handsets contain 130 kg of copper, 3.5 kg of silver, 340 grams of gold and 140 grams of palladium. To put this in perspective, this amount of gold could produce 50 wedding rings.
Similarly, 3.5 kg of silver weighs as much as one and a half laptops. However, only 11 per cent of people currently recycle their mobile phones.
Steve Symes, marketing manager at IPPTS Associates, said this figure is “very disappointing” considering the general recycling level for household waste is approximately 40 per cent in the country.
“No doubt a proportion of the mobile phones that are thrown into residual waste bins by people, are removed from the waste stream subsequently, and treated as e-waste,” he explained.
“They won’t then go to landfill, but this means that less of the material in each phone can be recycled and the process is much less efficient. Less efficiency also means less environmentally friendly.”
E-waste refers to electronic items that are approaching the end of their lifecycle. These can range from smaller devices such as mobiles and tablets up to big-ticket purchases, including flat-screen TVs and kitchen appliances.
Mr Symes said significant effort must be made to raise awareness levels about the pollution problems electronic devices create when they are not recycled properly.
In worst-case scenarios, contaminants can leak out and affect water supplies, he added. This may happen regardless of how effectively a landfill site is managed.
A closer look at the stats
The infographic, which was published on IPPTS’s The Wasters Blog website, showed that the average UK resident keeps their phone for just over 22 months.
Once people receive a new handset, they either throw the old device away, keep it, or give it to a recycling company. Unfortunately, 135 million phones are currently disposed of in the bin, which is approximately 78 per cent of the total.
However, recycling just a single lithium-ion battery could prevent as much as 60,000 litres of water from contamination. This is the same as three Olympic swimming pools.
According to the infographic, recycling one million devices is similar to taking 33 cars off the road for an entire year in terms of greenhouse gas savings. Similarly, the energy saved by recycling 42 phones could power the average household for 12 months.
“There is a real need for the public to be much more active in phone recycling, in our view,” Mr Symes said.
He said the most efficient way to dispose of unwanted handsets is to sell them on to an expert recycling company.
Anyone looking to do more for the environment was also encouraged to check drawers and cupboards for any old phones that could be recycled. People can also pass their devices onto charity shops, many of which will get in touch with mobile recycling companies themselves.
Friends and family may also have a number of unwanted mobiles they are willing to give away, particularly if they have recently received an upgrade from their network provider.