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How is a Mobile Phone Recycled?

With mobile phone technology evolving at a dramatic rate with no sign of slowing down, it’s no surprise that consumers are continually seeking the newest, most innovative handsets on the market. As a result, phones quickly become obsolete and contribute to an increasing amount of electronic waste around the world. More and more people are choosing not to dump their redundant or end of life mobile phones in their local landfill but to recycle them in a safe and ethical manner.

A mobile phone contains various materials, such as metals, including gold and silver, and plastics. These materials and components can be extracted from a phone and recycled in order to save energy and resources that would otherwise be needed for mining operations, which can destroy habitat and wildlife.

What’s more, toxic chemicals, including PVC, bromine and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium and cadmium lurk behind your mobile phone’s smooth face and when disposed of via landfill, they can cause air pollution and contaminate soil as well as drinking water. This is why it’s essential that mobiles phones are recycled whenever possible.

The Process

· Once a mobile phone recycling centre receives a phone, they will begin by disassembling its basic components. This will usually comprise of plastic, metals, casing and memory. The next step is to sort handsets, chargers, accessories and batteries into separate sorting bins. Most recycling centres will also look to recycle the boxes or packaging that you have sent your phone in.

· Batteries will then be sorted into their chemical types. The nickel in a phone’s battery will be processed and then recycled into stainless steel in order for it to take on new applications in either a home or industrial setting. Cadmium can also be extracted in order to make new batteries from the old ones. Mobile phone batteries also contain copper, which is recyclable.

· A mobile phone’s circuit board contains a number of precious metals. As well as gold and silver, it also contains lead. These metals can be used in an array of different ways and can help to protect the environment by preventing future mining operations taking place. Mining operations carried out to acquire these metals from the earth can be damaging to habitat and wildlife.

· Batteries and circuit boards containing lead-based solders are to be managed in an environmentally friendly way, in accordance with the Guideline on Material Recovery and Recycling of End-of-life Mobile Phones developed by the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative (MPPI) under the Basel Convention.

· A mobile phone’s casing can be recovered from its components using energy-from-incineration. Plastic is granulated and then reformulated in order to be used in a range of ways, such as plastic fencing around a property or plastic wood planks for beds/furniture.

· Accessories and mixed plastics will be shredded and separated from the ferrous and non-ferrous metals for re-use. These plastics are often used to make items such as shipping pallets and metals are sold on to manufacturers.

· Various parts of a mobile phone can be reused, including aerials, battery connectors, printed circuit boards (PCBs), connectors, integrated circuits (ICs), keyboards, LCD screens, microphones, lenses, screws and speakers.

Mobile phone recycling can ensure that the materials that makeup a phone, including those that are hazardous, can be extracted, made safe and reused. When collected in sufficient volume, mobile phones are a useful source of metals. Furthermore, from an environmental stance, the recovery and recycling of these metals has a significant positive impact. About 15-20% or up to 4.5 million old mobile phones are collected globally on an annual basis and are beyond economic repair and need to be recycled. Up to 80% of a mobile phone can be recycled or recovered as energy.