What happens with our broken phones?
By Klara Friman
Have you ever wondered what happens with old mobile phones that you throw away? The one you had before the one you have now, and the one before that? The mobile phone industry produces new models at an increasing pace, so there’s a high probability that you’ve gotten rid of a phone in the last year.
Phonebloks are trying to prevent these phones from being thrown away for (almost) no reason.
By aiding the industry in developing modular mobile phones we hope that the they will change for, what we think, is the better. We are not there yet, and mobile phones are thrown away for (almost) no reason.
So, what happens to them?
Planned obsolescence means that our phones today are designed to fail or lose their value. Either because they cannot be fixed or because they’re not compatible with new updates. A result of this is that approximately 90 percent of discarded mobile phones end up in landfill.
The phone you threw away last year ended up with 150 millions other mobile phones in a pile, ready to be filled in. Each of these phones consists of a number of materials extracted from different places on the planet and for each discarded phone, a new one is produced (ready to be discarded in a year or so).
All this because you don’t throw away your old phone without buying a new one, right?
The manufacture of electronic equipment is one of the fastest growing industries and mobile phones is one of its biggest sectors. There are a lot of advantages with people getting connected through mobile technology. In many developing countries mobile phones are used to send money safely. Millions of people, who until recently were without bank accounts, are now able to use their phones for safe money transfer. The increased availability of information and communications technology (ICT) is helping a lot of people out of poverty. ICT has been seen to stimulate economic development, support education and facilitate agriculture.
Unfortunately, the resources in the world are not infinite. Remember that pile of 150 million mobile phones from last year? Well, that’s just for Europe and the USA. Now add the phones of four fast growing populations representing 40% of the world total; Brazil, Russia, India and China, and it’s no wonder that resources are getting scarce.
The plastics in a mobile phone are (for the most part) produced out of non-renewable crude oil and the metals used are rare and thus only exist in limited amounts. To put all this material in landfills seems to be the last thing we want to do, from every perspective.
To prevent that the materials in your phone becomes waste the United Nations (U.N.) is giving the following recommendations:
First; reduce the waste by minimizing the use of material in the first place, Second; reuse the phone, if it’s still working give it to someone else, and Third; recycle the phone.
These three steps; reduce, reuse and recycle, are referred to as “The 3R’s”. The 3R’s are used as a strategy when nations all over the world work to reduce their waste. Sometimes steps four and five, Energy Recovery and Disposal, are included to represent the common but less preferred ways of handling these materials. (See image above.)
If you continue to read our upcoming posts on this topic we will try to clarify the differences between the five steps and try to explain how your phone is handled depending on where it ends up.