The habit of frequently changing mobile phones for new ones has led to more than 16 billion broken or out-of-use mobile phones in the world today, a third of them in Europe. In 2022 alone, an expert forum estimates that 5.3 billion of these gadgets were out of use.
In Romania, the statistics are not very encouraging. There are more mobile phones, broken or no longer in use, than the country’s population. More precisely, according to estimates by the RESPO DEEE Association, in 2022 there were no fewer than 23 million mobile phones in Romanians’ homes and drawers, up by one million from 2020, when studies put the ﬁgure at 22 million.
According to the latest data from the EESC- European Economic Social Committee, 90% of adults in the European Union own a mobile phone, half of which are smartphones. Mobile phone sales are expected to reach 5 million units a day in 2023.
Cristian Pocol, president of the RESPO DEEE Association, explains why this situation has arisen and how these mobile phones, which have become waste electrical and electronic equipment, pollute the environment if they are not offered for recycling.
“Rising living standards in European countries have, especially in the last 7-8 years, led to a change in people’s consumption behaviour and appetite for electrical and electronic products. We are buying more than ever and frequently replacing mobile phones, attracted by offers, new models and increased performance or better camera resolution. In Romania, the buying trend is still on the rise, boosted especially by Black Friday offers and discounts, which now exist almost all year round. We are encouraged to buy, but the biggest problem is what to do with these broken or decommissioned mobile phones. The latest data shows that the number of phones in Romanians’ drawers increased last year to 23 million devices, a ﬁgure one million higher than reported for 2020,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association (www.respo.ro).
Broken or decommissioned phones should be recycled
Unfortunately, many people choose to keep products in the home, even if they no longer use them, or, even more alarmingly, throw them in the rubbish bin or into the environment, ignoring the major dangers their components can have on nature and human health.
Mobile phones are part of the 90% recyclable category of electronic products. Smartphones are mostly made of metal (45%), glass (32%) and plastic (17%), contain precious metals such as gold, silver, copper or cobalt, but also toxic substances that can seriously affect people’s health and contaminate the soil once they end up in landﬁlls.
“Not recycling mobile phones is a real problem, not just in Romania or the European Union, but all over the world. A smartphone contains more than 70 elements, more than half of the elements in Mendeleev’s periodic table. By recycling our phones, we must understand that we are making a vital contribution to the health of the environment. Smartphones contain rare materials such as tantalum, tungsten, gold, silver or palladium. For every 10,000 mobile phones we recycle, we avoid the extraction of 26 tonnes of gold ore and 29 tonnes of silver ore,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO Association.
“By reducing mining, we reduce greenhouse gas (CO2) emissions from the atmosphere. For example, extracting one kilogram of gold from a mine produces 23 tonnes of CO2, 27 grams of mercury, 22 grams of arsenic and 2000 tonnes of waste. If we were to recover gold from mobile phones, then the ﬁnal waste would be just 10 kilograms and only 50 litres of water would be consumed. In a hypothetical situation where only 700 million mobile phones were recycled, a total of 14,920 tonnes of gold, silver, copper, palladium, cobalt and lithium would be generated, with a total value of EUR 1 billion. All these materials will then re-enter the economy as raw materials and contribute to the production of new devices,” says Cristian Pocol, President of RESPO DEEE Association.
Unfortunately, according to the reBuy study, Romania has a recycling rate of only 11% of broken or discarded mobile phones and we are therefore on the last place in the European Union.
74 million tonnes of WEEE will be generated annually by 2030
United Nations’ official data indicates that the world generated 53.6 million metric tons of WEEE in 2019 alone. Of this, only 17.4% was recycled. WEEE is the fastest growing waste category today and statistics show that globally we will generate around 74 million tonnes of WEEE annually by 2030.
Waste electrical and electronic equipment, in this case mobile phones, should not be thrown in the rubbish bin or kept in the home with other products, but should be taken personally to dedicated recycling centres/new product shops or handed in for collection to companies offering this service.
For example, the RESPO DEEE Association provides free bins (boxes or containers of various sizes), which can be ordered by calling 0 800 800 21 or online at www.respo.ro/solicitare-cutii- de-colectare/. Once delivered, these bins can be ﬁlled with the WEEE you want to offer for recycling and transported to collection centres in person or, you can order via telephone the collection thereof by authorised companies.