Mobile phones waste disposal and recycling

While most of us cannot imagine a world without mobile phones, we are unaware of the impact these gadgets have on the environment. There are about 15 billion phones in the world, and this number will continue increasing as new models are released. As a result, the number of mobile phones being thrown away has risen significantly over the years.

According to a report by the United Nations, we generate 49.8 million tonnes of e-waste each year. This is the equivalent of 9,023 phones being thrown away every second. To find out more about mobile phone disposal and recycling, continue reading.

Mobile phones waste disposal and recycling

Who invented the mobile phone?

Martin Cooper of Motorola developed the first-ever handheld mobile phone in 1973. The phones, now referred to as zero generation mobile phones, weighed over a kilogram, and they connected over Bell’s AMPS. Since then, mobile phones have received thousands of developments to get to where they are today. As of 2012, there were 250 000 active mobile phone patents. This number has increased since then as more manufacturers enter the industry, and now there’s estimated to be more than five million patents.

What are mobile phones made of?

Other than the glass, plastic and metal you see, mobile phones are made using a lot of other materials too. A smartphone is made up of 24.88% of silicon, 22.99% plastic, 20.47% iron, 14.17% aluminium, 6.93% copper, 6.3% lead, 2.2% zinc, 1% tin, 0.85% nickel, and 0.03% barium.

How are they made?

Without delving too much into the details, here’s a breakdown of how mobile phones are made:


The mobile production process starts with design. A team of designers mock up what the phone should look like after considering various options. This information is then passed over to the research and development lab, where a prototype is created. The phone’s exterior is designed first, and after the looks are finalised, electronics engineers start working on the inside working kit.

Software installation

Once the phone’s design is approved, the phone’s software is installed to breathe life into the handset. For smooth functioning, software and hardware must be compatible.


Samples are made to test the phone’s durability and efficiency. They undergo vigorous testing, including the drop test, screen test, speed test, user-friendliness, etc., to see if they are good enough to enter the market.

Mass production

After the prototype is approved, it is now time to build the phone. Parts are outsourced or manufactured in-house and then shipped to the assembly facility where the phones are put together.

Mobile phone disposal

Since phones are made of non-renewable materials such as plastic, ceramics, and glass, recycling is the best way to dispose of your old phone. In fact, mobile phones have a waste electrical recycling logo on the packaging to guide consumers on the best disposal method. This symbol highlights that the phone should not be disposed of in the general waste, but instead, it should be taken to a recycling centre.

Once a mobile phone is in the recycle bin, it goes through:

• Dismantling and sorting
• Battery sorting and processing for lithium, cobalt, and nickel
• Circuit board processing for precious metals
• Plastic recovery
• Accessory and mixed plastic recovery

The plastic components recovered from mobile phones are recycled into plastics for new electronic products, automotive replacement parts, and other plastic goods. Lithium batteries are processed to recover steel, and a mixed metal compound of nickel, lithium, and cobalt is used to make new batteries. Aluminium, the most recyclable material in mobile phones, is melted and moulded to create new aluminium products. Recycled glass from the touch screen is used to produce new glass products or used as replacement material in construction and road base.

Problems with mobile phone waste

Due to their potential toxicity, mobile phones should be handled as hazardous waste. Chemical substances from mobile phones like lithium, copper, lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium and zinc are toxic, and when discarded in landfills, they leach into the soil, contaminating underground water.

Are there any alternatives to mobile phones?

Yes. If you are looking for eco-friendly alternatives to a mobile phone, HAM radio, walkie-talkies, and family radio service are your best options. Walkie-talkies and family radio services offer a limited range, making it difficult to communicate with people further than 1.5 kilometres. HAM radios, on the other hand, are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, and you need a licence to operate one. However, they are easy to purchase, and you can use them to call people all over the world.

How else can you dispose of your mobile phone?

If your phone is still in good condition, consider trading it in for an upgrade or donating it to a charity organisation.

What are the costs associated with recycling and disposing of mobile phones?

Although phones shouldn’t be disposed of in landfills, recycling them is also a difficult and costly process. A lot of our e-waste is exported to countries such as China, Vietnam, Ghana, and Nigeria, where it is separated and recycled. The costs of recycling are also quite high. The costs of recycling one feature phone and one smartphone are $2.34 and $6.60 respectively.

Where can you take mobile phones to recycle or dispose of them for free?

The main channels of disposing or recycling mobile phones are the shops that sell them. That said, there are many other places where you can recycle your phone. Here is a list of organisations that recycle old mobile phones in the UK.

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