An estimated 5.3 billion mobile phones will be dumped in 2022, as per the data from United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) for the Global e-Waste Monitor. The staggering number of unused phones could be a concern as few of them are recycled while most are hoarded, experts warn.
The out-of-use phones, if stacked on top of each other, will stretch 50,000 km, says (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) research consortium. A survey observed that such phones comprise a fraction of the 44.48 million tons of annual global e-waste.
Mobile phones contain precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, palladium, etc. However, most of these devices will be hoarded while only a few could be used for recycling. The survey by WEEE Forum found that 13 percent of people keep unused phones for emotional value. 15 percent of the people said that they will keep their phones to sell or give them away later. 46 percent of the 8,775 households in the survey talked of the phone’s potential use in the future.
The inability to recycle unused phones might result in undesirable consequences such as companies having to dig more for mining. Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, a not-for-profit association representing forty-six producer responsibility organizations said, “Smartphones are one of the electronic products of highest concern for us. If we don’t recycle the rare materials they contain, we’ll have to mine them in countries like China or Congo.”
“People tend not to realize that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together at a global level represent massive volumes. But e-waste will never be collected voluntarily because of the high cost. That is why legislation is essential,” he added.
Europe and the US recycle a portion of their dead mobile phones
The European Union’s recovery rate of e-Waste stands at 55%. It is still significantly higher than the rest of the world, and that is because of the legislation.
On the contrary, the US has no centrally regulated e-waste management system, and tech firms have their own schemes. Apple, for example, recycled 38,000 metric tons of electronic waste in the 2021 fiscal year and was able to reuse materials like copper and gold. Similarly, Samsung in the US recycles 100 million pounds of e-waste each year, as per Mark Newton, the company’s head of North America corporate sustainability.