More than five billion of the estimated 16 billion mobile phones possessed worldwide will likely be discarded or stashed away in 2022, experts said Thursday, calling for more recycling of the often hazardous materials they contain.
Stacked flat on top of each other, many disused phones would rise 50,000 kilometres (30,000 miles), more than a hundred times higher than the International Space Station, the WEEE research consortium found.
Despite containing valuable gold, copper, silver, palladium and other recyclable components, almost all these unwanted devices will be hoarded, dumped or incinerated, causing significant health and environmental harm.
“Smartphones are one of the electronic products of highest concern for us,” said Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, a not-for-profit association representing forty-six producer responsibility organisations.
“If we don’t recycle the rare materials they contain, we’ll have to mine them in countries like China or Congo,” Leroy told AFP.
Defunct cell phones are just the tip of the 44.48-million-ton iceberg of global electronic waste generated annually that isn’t recycled, according to the 2020 global e-waste monitor.
Many of the five billion phones withdrawn from circulation will be hoarded rather than dumped in the trash, according to a survey in six European countries from June to September 2022.
This happens when households and businesses forget cell phones in drawers, closets, cupboards or garages rather than bringing them in for repair or recycling.
Up to five kilos (8 pounds) of e-devices per person are currently hoarded in the average European family, the report found.
According to the new findings, 46 per cent of the 8,775 households surveyed considered potential future use as the main reason for hoarding small electrical and electronic equipment.
Another 15 per cent stockpile their gadgets with the intention to sell them or giving them away, while 13 per cent keep them due to “sentimental value”.
“People tend not to realise that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together at a global level represent massive volumes,” said Pascal Leroy.
“But e-waste will never be collected voluntarily because of the high cost. That is why legislation is essential.”