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25.05.2015

Where mobile phones go when they die

Imagen |  pavlinajane

Who doesn’t have an old phone (or several of them) at home that they don’t really know what to do with? It should be no surprise that in 2014, the number of telephone lines surpassed the number of inhabitants on the planet. For example in Spain, we have more mobile lines (50 million) than inhabitants (47), according to data from the National Observatory for Telecommunications and the Information Society (ONTSI). After just a couple of decades of widespread mobile phone use, how many have passed through our hands? There’s no need for statistics to realize that there is more and more electronic waste.

The good news is that there are management plans for this waste. The collection and processing of this waste can prevent the creation of uncontrollable landfills that are harmful to the environment and to people: the compounds they contain can be quite toxic.

If you want to do your part to help the environment, get rid of the waste and contribute to the recovery of materials, you can take them to a recycling center or to the store (the law requires retailers to collect them).

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Imagen | Cory Doctorow

Although recycling is sometimes only associated with paper, glass and plastics, many of the materials that make up mobile phones can be reused. Up to 90% of phone parts can be reused, according to the environmental organization Recyciclia, promoter of Tragamovil, a foundation for the management of telephone equipment and communications at the national level. Of these materials, 65% are plastic and 25% are metals. The remaining 10% consist of unrecoverable substances such as fiberglass.

Tragamovil, like the other eight recycling management programs nationally and some others of regional and local level, as well as manufacturers themselves, are coordinated by a national office, the OfiRaee. They all have containers and collection points for telephones that are discarded by producers, distributors and users, from where they are transported to treatment plants to separate the different materials.

Although these are the programs that exist in Spain, in all developed countries there are similar initiatives for mobile phone reycling. Three outstanding cases exist worldwide:

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Imagen | Floyd Wilde

Among recoverable items there are various minerals that are difficult to find in nature, like coltan which is used in some capacitors/condensers, cassiterite which forms tin circuits or Tungsten (wolfram), which allows the device to vibrate. All of these materials are necessary to make almost any electronic gadget and their reuse is crucial in order to avoid ecological, environmental and social problems in the regions from which they are extracted. Some mobile parts also contain precious metals like gold, silver, platinum and copper, as well as other valuable materials.

Most of the products recovered in these recycling centers go to the automobile industry and to consumer electronics. So take out your old phones and give them a second chance. The planet will thank you.