Ring ring - a mobile phone recycling wake-up call

Should you recycle your mobile phone or trade it in to telcos which then resell it?

Last month, I visited the Tes-Amm electronics recycling plant which recycles Nokia phones from South-east Asia (except Malaysia, which has its own plant), Australia and New Zealand. The plant recycles 1.5 to 2 tonnes of phones, chargers and other accessories from Nokia each month.

I’m all for recycling it with an electronics recycler whose practices are sustainable.

For example, minimising workers’ contact with potentially toxic parts is a good first step. Workers at Tes-Amm only come into contact with phones when they are dismantling them into component parts - about two minutes per phone, 20-30 phones an hour, eight hours a day. For this, they are paid about $1,500 a month.

In contrast, when phones are traded in and resold, who knows what happens to them?

Perhaps they are refurbished and reused. For the second lifetime of that phone, I have no problems with that. But it’s what happens otherwise, or after the phone is discarded for the second time, that concerns me.

Phones may end up in electronic-waste dumps in Guiyu, China or Delhi, India. There, phones are also picked apart for their scrap metal. But workers may not have adequate protection, and they may be exposed to heavy metals like mercury, toxic substances like dioxins from PVC and brominated flame retardants, and arsenic. They may barely be paid a sustainable wage.

That’s why I’d rather send my phone to a company here which has documented safety controls and processes. And it’s a conscious choice I’ll be making - not only when figuring out what to do with my phone at the end of its lifetime, but also when buying phones and other electronics.

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