Mobile phone recycling 

After single use plastics, smartphone hoarding is the new habit we need to break

The plastic ban is here

Let’s be honest, saying goodbye can be hard. And judging from our behaviour, that sentiment even rings true when it comes to parting ways with our old smartphones.

Australians are holding on to their old phones for longer, rather than refurbishing or recycling them — and it’s having real environmental consequences.

Nearly half (45 per cent) of Australians intend to recycle their old device but this motivation drops off with only one in 10 actually following through, according to new research by MobileMuster, Australia’s government-accredited mobile phone recycling program.

The organisation estimates that there are 23 million unused mobile phones sitting in drawers and cupboards across the country, of which roughly five million are likely defunct.

If they’re collecting dust it means the devices aren’t ending up in landfill (e-waste is actually banned from landfill in South Australia and Victoria), but there is a huge opportunity cost incurred if they are not recycled.

“They’re not ending up in our general waste stream, they’re ending up in our homes. But the value comes from recovering those resources, and so reducing the need to mine virgin materials,” MobileMuster manager Spyro Kalos told news.com.au.

Last year the program collected 90 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories including things like chargers and smart watches but that represents just a small portion of the e-waste out there.

MORE: ‘E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world’

Australia’s e-waste has ballooned in recent years but the good news is 99 per cent of materials in a smartphone can be recovered into their raw forms and reused.

“It goes back into the supply chain to make new products,” Mr Kalos said.

And that is the case for most electronic waste, meaning it’s almost possible to achieve what is known as a circular economy when it come to their production.

Just one in 10 Australian mobile consumers choose to participate in the second-hand phone market, lagging the global average of 15 per cent, according to market research. Picture: Paul Braven

Just one in 10 Australian mobile consumers choose to participate in the second-hand phone market, lagging the global average of 15 per cent, according to market research. Picture: Paul BravenSource:AAP

FROM PLASTIC BAGS TO E-WASTE

Compared to other markets, only a small proportion of Australians lease their phone or trade their old device in when they get a new one. Because smartphones are such prized possessions, not to mention expensive, we tend to stash them away for safe keeping.

“We shove it in a drawer in case we need it later, but in reality we never go back to it,” Mr Kalos said. “Two-thirds of us do that.”

The introduction of the plastic bag ban in NSW this year helped make consumers more aware about the environmental impact of the waste they help generate.

In a bid to capitalise on that awareness — and encourage consumers to recycle their old phone — MobileMuster has partnered with Take 3 For the Sea, a not-for-profit that aims to reduce plastic pollution from oceans and waterways. During the months of January and February, every mobile phone recycled will help support the charity.

“The partnership will encourage people to recycle a mobile phone over the summer and by doing so it will help Take 3 for the Sea continue doing the great work they’re doing in reducing plastic pollution,” Mr Kalos said.

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