The disposal of mobile electronic devices in Australia is a problem that has been largely underestimated by the industry and regulatory bodies. For example already over 70 million electronic products have been sold in Australia, and another 18 million new ones are sold every year. The rapid development of new technology and the nature of industries like mobile phones and method of selling contracts with new handsets, encourage regular upgrades and replacements, have led to the average life expectancy of a mobile phone being only 18-24 months.
This represents a significant toxic waste legacy that is increasing at an alarming rate.
Mobile electronic products and their accessories contain concentrations of a range of hazardous substances including toxic heavy metals, brominated flame retardants (BFRs), perfluro-octanoic acid (PFOA) and other metals such as cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic etc. They also contain non-renewable resources such as gold, copper and plastic. These heavy metals do not degrade in the environment, and instead accumulate in the fatty tissue of organisms. When a mobile phones are disposed to landfill and begins to decompose, a poisonous liquid is formed that can seep into groundwater and then into rivers and streams.
THE RECYCLING PROCESS
The 6 steps of recycling
Curious about how we turn phone and accessories with no resale value, into new possibilities?
Here’s an insight into Mobilemuster’s process.
MobileMuster is the Australian mobile phone industry’s official product stewardship program.
The process provides a complete breakdown of chemical compounds. That means it prevents potentially damaging chemical compounds (such as dioxins and furans) from reforming and threatening the environment.
Step 1: Sorting
First, phones are dismantled and sorted into the following components: batteries (NiCad, NiMetHyd, Lithium Ion), printed circuit boards, handsets, chargers/accessories, plastics, metals and paper/cardboard packaging.
Step 2: Batteries
Batteries are sorted, then shipped to approved recyclers in other countries. Where they are sent depends on battery type – currently, lithium ion batteries are shipped to TES-AMM in Singapore where they’re processed for cobalt and lithium. Nickel cadmium (NiCad) and nickel metal hydride (NiMetHyd) batteries are shipped to KOBAR Ltd in South Korea where they are processed for nickel (to make stainless steel), cadmium (to make new batteries) and copper.
Step 3: Circuits
Circuit boards are stored and then shipped to TES-AMM in Singapore where they are processed for precious metals including gold, silver, copper and lead.
Step 4: Casings
Handset casings are sent to local plastics manufacturer Australian Composite Technology, who shreds and uses the plastic to produce composite plastic fence posts.
Step 5: Accessories
Accessories are processed by TES-AMM, they are shredded and separated from the ferrous and non-ferrous metals for re-use.
Step 6: Packaging
Packaging is separated into plastic and paper and sent to local recyclers for processing.