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Mobile Phone Disposal and Recycling
There are about 15 billion mobile phones in the world, and this number continues to rise with the release of new models. As a result, disposal of mobile phones has increased significantly over the years. These devices have a serious impact on the environment, so it’s important you dispose of mobile phones safely.
Recycling mobile phones is the best option to protect human and environmental health. However, not everyone understands how to dispose of and recycle mobile phones properly. Find out everything you need to know about mobile phone disposal and recycling with these answers to your frequently asked questions.
Mobile phone disposal
Who invented the mobile phone?
It’s generally accepted that Martin Cooper of Motorola developed the first handheld mobile phone in 1973. However, the first patent for a ‘pocket-size folding telephone with a very thin carbon microphone’ was made in 1917 by Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt.
The Motorola phones – now referred to as zero generation mobile phones – weighed more than 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. More manufacturers have entered the industry and now there’s estimated to be more than five million active mobile phone patents.
What are mobile phones made of?
The three main materials mobile phones are made from are glass, plastic, and metal. However, there are various metals inside your mobile phone that make up the electrical components that keep it running. It varies between models but generally a smartphone is made up of:
- Silicon – 24.88%
- Plastic – 22.99%
- Iron – 20.47%
- Aluminium – 14.17%
- Copper – 6.93%
- Lead – 6.3%
- Zinc – 2.2%
- Tin – 1%
- Nickel – 0.85%
- Barium – 0.03%
What type of waste are mobile phones?
Mobile phones are a type of WEEE waste (waste electrical and electronic equipment). Recycling mobile phones can take place alongside other WEEE such as TVs, laptops, and toasters. They’re broken down into their components, so parts of mobile phones for disposal eventually class as metal waste, glass waste, and plastic waste too.
How are mobile phones made?
The construction of mobile phones can be quite complex. So, without delving into the details, here’s a general breakdown of how mobile phones are made:
- Design – The mobile phone 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 to create a prototype. The phone’s exterior is designed first before 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.
- Testing – 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, and more. This is to check they’re good enough to enter the market.
- Mass production – After the prototype is approved, it’s 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 before hitting the shelves.
How do you dispose of a mobile phone?
Recycling mobile phones is the best way to dispose of them, as they’re made of non-renewable materials such as plastic and glass. Most mobile phones have a waste electrical recycling logo on the packaging to guide consumers towards recycling. This symbol highlights that the phone should not be disposed of with general waste, but instead taken to a recycling centre.
At your local recycling centre there’s normally a container for small electrical items, where you can put old and broken mobile phones for recycling. You should not throw them away with your household recycling. A few other options for disposing of old mobile phones are to:
- Resell online or instore if your mobile phone still works – many high street shops will offer you a price with or without the charging cable and other accessories.
- Donate to charity whether your old mobile phone works or not. Some will raise money by passing on broken phones to recycling companies.
- Ask at the point of purchase as many mobile phone companies offer trade-in discounts for working and damaged mobile phones when you get a new one.
How are mobile phones recycled?
When you recycle mobile phones, they’ll be sent to a recycling facility where it goes through a few processes such as:
- Dismantling and sorting
- Battery sorting and processing for lithium, cobalt, and nickel – lithium batteries are processed to recover steel, and a mixed metal compound of nickel, lithium, and cobalt is used to make new batteries.
- Circuit board processing for precious metals – aluminium, the most recyclable material in mobile phones, is melted and moulded to create new aluminium products.
- Plastic recovery – plastic components recovered from mobile phones are recycled into plastics for new electronic products, automotive replacement parts, and other plastic goods.
- Accessory and mixed plastic recovery – recycled glass from the touch screen is used to produce new glass products or used as replacement material in construction and road base.
What are the 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. When discarded in landfill, they leach into the soil, contaminating underground water.
Improper disposal of mobile phones can lead to such waste ending up in landfill, where it can take hundreds of years to decompose. Even the chemical elements in the plastic casing of mobile phones can leach into the soil and surrounding water, adding to pollution levels.
Are there any alternatives to mobile phones?
Yes, but none that offer the convenience or modern technology of mobile phones. If you’re 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’re easy to purchase, and you can use them to call people all over the world.
What are the costs associated with recycling and disposing of mobile phones?
Recycling mobile phones can be a costly process due to the different materials extracted. Plus, lots of UK e-waste is exported to countries such as China, Vietnam, Ghana, and Nigeria, where it’s separated and recycled – which adds to the costs. For consumers however, you can normally recycle mobile phones for free at your local recycling centre.
Businesses that need to dispose of mobile phones should do so alongside your WEEE waste. You’ll need to arrange and pay for commercial waste collection. The price depends on the amount of waste you have, your location, and various other factors. Contact us today for a free quote tailored to your needs.
What are some facts about mobile phone disposal?
A few key facts about disposal of mobile phones are that:
- Up to 80% of a mobile phone is recyclable.
- According to a report by the United Nations, we generate 49.8 million tonnes of e-waste each year. That’s the equivalent of 9,023 phones being thrown away every second.
- Nokia found that only 4% of mobile phones go to landfill – however, around 44% are just left unused in people’s homes.
Where can you take mobile phones to recycle or dispose of them for free?
The main place to dispose or recycle mobile phones for free are at the shops where you bought them. Most will accept old mobile phones for recycling in any condition, even offering a discount or buying them off you in some cases. Otherwise, individuals can take mobile phones to your nearby household recycling centre to dispose of them for free.
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