Most people have an old mobile phone hanging around, either because they have replaced it with a newer model or because it has stopped working. Along with other electronic waste, these devices frequently finish up in landfill sites, which not only risks polluting the surrounding soil or water but also wastes the materials inside them. E-waste recycling can solve these problems, but what happens to the devices once they are dropped off?
Fortunately, most parts of a mobile phone can be recycled, including the case, the circuit board, and even the charger. The devices are dismantled, and the various components are sent off to be recycled separately.
Most modern mobile batteries are made of lithium, which can be recycled and made into new batteries. They are usually sent to Singapore or South Korea for processing. If the mobile uses a nickel-cadmium battery, the cadmium can be recovered.
Plastic recycling is very common nowadays, and mobile phone cases are recycled and can be used to make shipping pallets.
The glass screen on the mobile is easily separated from the rest of the phone and recycled with other glass.
Recycling of precious metals is where mobile recycling comes into its own. Mobiles contain many precious metals; the amount of gold in a mobile, for example, is greater than the amount in the same weight of ore. Phones also contain silver, copper, aluminium and lead, all of which can be reclaimed and used to make other metal items, including new phones.
Some phones contain the very rare metal hafnium, which can be reclaimed; another metal, coltan, is mined from a conflict zone in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it has been suggested that this contributes to unethical practices and funds civil war. Metals are in any case a non-renewable resource, and recycling is beneficial to the environment.
The one thing that won't be recovered is your data. You should make sure you back up anything you want and wipe the data before sending your phone off -- but if this is not possible, rest assured the data will be destroyed in the recycling process.
It is likely that more and more mobiles will be sold and discarded in the future, leading to problems with disposing of the old devices. The more components that can be recycled and reused to make the new devices, the better for the planet.