The last few weeks have put me in a position where I have been doing a lot of reminiscing of my life over the past years. Growing up. The friends I’ve made. The friends I’ve lost. School, sports and weekly pizza nights with the family. Not to mention the technology that has developed along the way. I remember the days of the walkman. The days of having to choose which side of a tape to play. I remember the days of the CD. The days of VHS. The days of Nintendo 64. I remember when DVDs came out and what it meant to be able to use a cordless phone. I remember when I first got to use the internet at school when I was 12 and having such difficulty understanding the concept of what it meant to be able to “Google” something.
Even more than that, I remember the trend to cell phones. I remember them getting increasingly smaller as the years went on. The development of text messaging. The ability to check emails through your phone. I remember the craze for new add-ons such as Blue Tooth, games and ringtones. Now it just seems like second nature to have a cell phone in hand. I no longer need a watch because I can just check my phone. I no longer have a landline because my cell does the job.
The thing I have found fascinating is that with the increasing trend that cell phones have become as much a part of a person as their clothes on their back, it’s how different countries are dealing with the issue of old cell phones. It is said that “consumers reportedly upgrade their phone on average every 18 months” (Office of Consumer Affairs, 2011) in Canada. The same is said for Australia and USA. That would mean that if a person first got a cell phone at the age of 16, by the time they turned 50 they would have gone through an estimated 23 cell phones. And that’s not even taking into consideration that in places such as Australia, “31% of mobile phone users have 2 or more old mobiles at home” (MobileMuster). One can only begin to estimate the number of cell phones the entire world goes through in a year. As a case in point, “Americans discard 125 million phones each year, creating 65,000 tons of waste” (EarthTalk, 2011). Right.
So – for all us greenies out there – this should raise some red flags as far as what is being done to minimize the waste from the world’s increased consumerism habits in the mobile phone industry. Especially considering “over 90% of the materials in mobile phones can be recovered and used as raw materials for new products” (MobileMuster). MobileMuster, an Australian-based recycling program has declared that they have collected 806 tonnes of mobile-related items since first starting in November 1998. This includes 5.82 million handsets and batteries.
After a bit of research, I was able to discover what it is that cell phones get recycled into. MobileMuster did a great job of breaking things down and as a result, each mobile can be separated into the following:
- Batteries include nickel to make stainless steel and cobalt and cadmium to make new batteries.
- Circuit boards include small amounts of gold and silver that is used in jewellery and other applications.
- Handset housings and casings include plastics that are shredded and used to make fence posts and pallets.
- Accessories include plastics and metals that are shredded, sorted and then used to make new plastic or metal products.
In Australia, people can mail in their old phones to MobileMuster in order to recycle them, but the programs don’t stop there. In New Zealand, the Starship Foundation has developed a unique cell phone recycling program that in turn helps children at the national hospital. Essentially, by handing over old cell phones to Starship Foundation, a person is helping to raise funds that will in turn go towards the Starship Air Ambulance Service.
“Year-round the Starship Air Ambulance Service flies top medical experts to life-threatening emergencies around the country. These vary from complications arising from normal childhood illnesses such as the flu to accidents (drowning, car crashes, sporting injuries); as well as children suffering from heart conditions, seizures and meningitis. These specialists stabilise the children and allow them to be brought safely to Starship where they can receive the care they need” (Starship Foundation).
Programs like this have changed recycling cell phones from being simply about the environment to being so much more than that. The Charitable Recycling Program of Canada is similar in that by donating old cell phones to this program, they “will provide a monetary contribution to charity for each cell phone donated, regardless of age or condition” (The Charitabe Recycling Program of Canada). A more straightforward approach is used with Recycle My Cell, another Canadian program that essentially provides persons of interest with drop-off locations for their old cell phones. “Recycle My Cell is a national industry initiative led by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) along with its members (wireless manufacturers and service providers) to raise awareness about mobile device recycling” (Recycle My Cell).
As “cell phones are among the fastest growing types of trash” (EarthTalk, 2011) sometimes programs need a bigger scope for their audience. Organizations such as Call2Recycle and the CollectiveGood are both North American based, assisting both Canadians and Americans with recycling their old mobile phones. Call2Recycle is simple in that it connects users with nearby drop-off boxes. CollectiveGood takes it to the next level by taking “used cell phones, refurbishes them and then re-sells them to distributors and carriers for use primarily in developing countries, providing affordable communications to poorer citizens while helping to ‘bridge the digital divide’” (EarthTalk, 2011).
With the global increase in mobile phone users (for 2004, in Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Finland, “the number of mobile wireless subscribers per 100 inhabitants was 119.4, 102.8 and 95.6 respectively” (Office of Consumer Affairs, 2011)), recycling used cell phones seems like a no-brainer. Not only does it help prevent a massive surge in landfills worldwide, but by recycling a cell phone one can do more than help the environment. That used cell phone might help save a life (Starship Foundation), be used again (CollectiveGood) or simply go towards being turned into something brand new entirely (MobileMuster).
EarthTalk. (2011). Cell Phone Recycling: How to Recycle Your Old Cell Phone. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from About.com: http://environment.about.com/od/recycling/a/cell_phones.htm
MobileMuster. (n.d.). Quick Facts. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from MobileMuster: http://www.mobilemuster.com.au/quick_facts
Office of Consumer Affairs. (2011, April 4). The Expansion of Cellphone Services. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from Industry Canada: http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/oca-bc.nsf/eng/ca02267.html
Recycle My Cell. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from Recycle My Cell: http://www.recyclemycell.ca/overview.php
Starship Foundation. (n.d.). Starship Mobile Phone Recycling Appeal. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from Starship Foundation: http://www.starship.org.nz/phone
The Charitabe Recycling Program of Canada. (n.d.). Charitable Recycling Program: Home. Retrieved August 12, 2011, from Charitable Recycling Program: http://www.charitablerecycling.ca/CA/home.asp