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Tech trash to treasure: MobileMuster phone recycling

We know you're excited about buying your new iPhone 3G, but as you rip out the SIM card think about how you might dispose of your old phone thoughtfully.


We know you're excited about buying your new iPhone 3G, but as you rip out the SIM card think about how you might thoughtfully dispose of your old phone.

A mobile phone isn't something people tend to put in the bin with food scraps and kitty litter. It was predicted in a study conducted by the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association (AMTA) that only about 4 per cent of mobile phones will end up in the trash, with about 80 per cent of used mobile phones are handed down to family and friends. The same study estimates that there are roughly 16 million used handsets in Australia and at least 4 million not longer in use and ready to be recycled.

If you have one or more used mobile handsets laying about in a desk drawer and you'd like to do the right thing by the environment, then you'll be happy to hear that mobile phone recycling is as simple as recycling old milk cartons and newspapers.

While the idea of recycling sounds enticing, you're probably curious about where your precious phone is going to end up. After all, you paid good money for that phone and in some cases you may have even formed an attachment to your favourite tech toy.

Read on for details about how you can recycle your old mobile phone handset.

(Credit: MobileMuster)

That big mobile phone shop in the sky
There are several mobile phone recycling initiatives operating in Australia including Mobile Muster. Funded by most of the big names in Australian telecommunications, both carriers and mobile phone manufacturers, Mobile Muster is a not-for-profit organisation that provides an intermediary between people with used mobile phones and e-waste recyclers.

Throughout 2007 and 2008 MobileMuster collected 102 tonnes of mobile phone handsets and accessories for recycling, and considering trends in consumer electronics spending, this number will only increase over the years to come.

The team at MobileMuster pass on the recycled phones to e-waste recycler MRI who are responsible for dismantling the handsets. After pulling the phones apart, MRI sort the components into high and low value items.

"Over 90 per cent of the materials in mobile phones, batteries, chargers and accessories will be recovered and used to make new items", says MobileMuster's manager, Rose Read.

Of all of the components in your used phone the circuit board will be the most valuable. MRI send large quantities of these circuit boards to a company in Korea for processing between one and two kilograms of gold per tonne.

Plastic components including phone covers, batteries and accessories are processed locally.

"The plastics from the handsets and chargers are then sent to Australian Composite Technologies, where together with other plastics are turned into fence posts," says Read. "These plastic fence posts have been used in a horse stud in the Hunter Valley."

Who, where and how?
While the process for you is as simple as recycling paper and plastics, the task of re-purposing consumer electronics, like phones and PCs, is a tricky business. Mobile phones contain small quantities of potentially harmful chemicals, so if you toss them in with your weekly recycling collection you can be sure they will be tossed into landfill.

(Credit: MobileMuster)

Instead, pass your phone on to a dedicated e-waste recycler. At the moment, MobileMuster offer two main ways to make sure your phone reaches the right people:

  • Post it: free postage paid vouchers are available from the Mobile Muster website or postage paid satchels are available from Australia Post outlets.
  • Drop it off: there are currently 3,200 registered Mobile Muster drop off locations including ANZ banks, mobile phone stores, Nokia and Motorola service centres and some local council offices. A complete list of drop-off points is available at www.mobilemuster.com.au.

The mobile phone manufacturers have started including a Mobile Muster postage-paid satchel in the retail package with new handsets. To date, we have come across recycling bags from companies like i-mate, Nokia, Samsung and Motorola while unboxing a phone before a review.

If you find a satchel in the packaging with your new phone make sure you put it to use. Take the battery out of the handset, place them in the collection bag with any accessories including the charger and put the package in the nearest Australia Post mailbox.