This year, 5.3 billion mobile phones will be thrown away, according to the International Forum on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), BBC reports. The assessment, based on global trade data, highlights the growing environmental problem of “e-waste”.
Many people keep old phones instead of recycling them, research shows. Valuable minerals that cannot be extracted from waste electronics, such as copper in wires or cobalt in batteries, must be disposed of properly.
“People usually don’t realize that all these seemingly insignificant things have great value and together represent huge amounts globally,” said WEEE CEO Pascal Leroy. It is estimated that there are around 16 billion mobile phones in the world, and in Europe almost one third are no longer in use.
Research by WEEE shows that the “mountain” of electrical and electronic waste, from washing machines and toasters to tablet computers and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, will grow to 74 million tonnes a year by 2030. Earlier this year, the Royal Society of Chemistry launched a campaign to promote the exploitation of e-waste to make new products, highlighting global conflict, including the crisis in Ukraine, which threatens precious metals supply chains.
“These devices offer very important resources that can be used in the production of new electronic devices or other equipment, such as wind turbines, batteries for electric cars or solar panels,” points out Magdalena Haritanovic from WEEE.
Just over 17 percent of the world’s e-waste is properly recycled, but the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union has set a target of 30 percent by next year. In the UK, more than 20 million unused but working electrical items, worth as much as £5.63 billion, are currently in UK homes, according to research by Material Focus. It has also been calculated that the average UK household could sell unwanted technology and raise around £200.