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Out with the old in with the reused: Recycling old phones

In 2020, approximately 580m tonnes of CO2e were produced by the 7.7bn mobile phones in use. That number roughly equates to 1% of all global emissions. Most of the emissions linked to smartphones however actually occur during manufacturing process. Using a refurbished smartphone eliminates on average 80% of a phone’s total carbon emission produced. Making the most of what already exists saves money but also has a great impact on the environment.

Phone waste makes up a large proportion of electronic waste. More than 70% of the total landfill waste consist of electronics which results in an increase of polluted land. Land pollution effects every area of the living world. This includes water quality which results in unsafe water to drink, polluted soil which leads to loss of fertile land for agriculture and climate change which causes effects such as flash floods and irregular rainfalls.

Throwing mobile phones away after a short life span is not a sustainable solution and contributing to the ever-increasing problem of e-waste. Tech companies are researching and developing solutions to create a more circular economy as a way of lowering emissions and to enforce a responsible sustainable supply of finite materials. Discarded electronics are thought to be worth 57 billion dollars annually but 80% of that waste is not being collected.

A lot of companies have achieved or are looking to achieve 100% recycled electronic products but what pressures are being placed on manufacturers to use recycled materials in the production of electronics? After researching it seems there are not a lot of incentives or rules being placed on the manufacturing industry. In fact, there is a reliance on consumers to pressurise electronic manufacturers to increase the amount of recycled materials used in their products. Associations have a big role to play in encouraging the industry to reuse old materials and to fight for stricter policies.

A large part of the e-waste problem is due to individuals and businesses not being aware of effective recycling solutions. Educating your employees and customers on the impact of e-waste and recycling helps organisations to save valuable resources, money and have a positive impact on the planet. E-waste is extremely harmful to both animals and humans which is why businesses need to be encouraged and incentivized to recycle or re use mobile phones. Some initiatives have already started to take place and further ones such as curb side collections, which will make recycling e-waste easier, are looking to be introduced by the government.

But in the meantime, below are some great ways organisations can manage and recycle E-waste:

  • Increase the use of online hard drives instead of physical ones

  • Take broken/ old electronics to specialist recycling centre

  • Align e-waste recycling with the company culture

  • Trade in to upgrade

  • Donate old electronics to charity

  • Change product design to incorporate recycled materials

  • Repairing first rather than recycle first.

For more information on how to reduce your carbon footprint, including e-waste, recycling and energy efficiency tips, check out our straight talking guide ‘Quick Wins: How to reduce your carbon footprint’.


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