Environment Watch: Calls For Recycling Mount As 100M Lbs Of Gold Found In Unused Mobile Phones

Environment Watch: Calls For Recycling Mount As 100M Lbs Of Gold Found In Unused Mobile Phones
Samsung Galaxy S5 vs iPhone 5S Kārlis Dambrāns / Flickr CC BY 2.0
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A latest study has revealed the mobile phone industry is now slowly becoming an enemy of the environment. A research by the University of Surrey published in the journal the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment said the current business models of frequent upgrades does not only cost the manufacturer but also hurt the environment.


Researchers analyzed studies on the lifespan of mobile devices from point to point – manufacture, usage and then to disposal. The scientists scrutinized the process to know the precise impacts each stage had to give off on the environment.

They said recycling could reduce the impacts of frequent upgrades if these were only actively pursued by the industry. “The current business model of mobile contracts encourages consumers to upgrade frequently, regardless of whether their current phone is fit for purpose,” lead author Dr James Suckling from the University of Surrey said. He noted that because there is little incentive for people to recycle old mobiles, this leaves many unused devices lingering in drawers, “until they are eventually thrown away and end up in landfill. This isn’t a trend that can continue if we are to have the mobile lifestyle we want, while still ensuring a sustainable future.”

In the United Kingdom alone, the number of unused phones were believed to be an estimated 85 million units. The scientists said the unused phones contain 4 tons of gold.

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That is equivalent to US$168 million worth of lost resource, as well as 84,000 tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere, Suckling said.

The researchers proposed to manufacturers a “cloud-based product service system,” which isn’t exactly new since desktop PCs have already utilized it. A remote server can host the heavy processing and memory storage of mobile devices. In the process, the gadgets will become “less complex, designed to last longer and requiring less precious resources to make.”

Researchers encourage manufacturers to provide a “take-back” clause in the mobile service contract so that consumers will return any unused smartphone to them. “This would be instrumental in ensuring that the resources tied up in mobile phones are retained and not lost to landfill,” Suckling said.