According to Telephia's Q1 2006 European Subscriber and Device Report, 27 per cent of mobile phone users in Europe replace their mobile phone every year, and 60 per cent do so every two years. There are an estimated 90 million unwanted mobile phones and PDAs lying around in the UK, and 615 million in the whole of Europe. This figure is set to rise even higher as the age for owning a mobile phone becomes progressively lower.
So what can you do to help? One good tip is to use a service like ActionAid's mobile phone amnesty, which lets you recycle your old mobile phones for free. The organisation will send you a freepost bag in which you can return your old mobiles. It doesn't do what many companies are doing and send the phones off to developing countries (where they often end up in landfill sites). Instead the phones or parts get refurbished and then sold back to the UK market.
The money that ActionAid gets from recycling your phones enables it to help some of the world's poorest countries. ActionAid's perspective is that it's better to help poor communities through providing food, safe water, shelter, education, healthcare and the means to earn a living, than by sending over second-hand electronic goods.
A recent Independent article claims that each year the UK disposes of around two million tonnes of electronic waste. The cheapest way of disposing of this stuff is to sell it to countries like Africa, China and India. "Each month about 500 container loads, containing about 400,000 unwanted computers, arrive in Nigeria to be processed. But 75 per cent of units shipped to Nigeria cannot be resold. So they sit on landfills, and children scrabble barefoot, looking for scraps of copper wire or nails. And every so often, the plastics are burnt, sending fumes up into the air."
The figures speak for themselves and it seems like one of the greatest problems facing the Western world is our overwhelming consumption of electronic goods. Not only are we getting poorer countries to produce cheaper goods, but we are then dumping those goods back in those countries. Furthermore, who knows what the real cost to the environment is?
Getting a new mobile phone or laptop for increasingly cheaper prices may seem like a bargain, but is this bargain too good to be true? At some point we all have to ask ourselves the question: is it worth destroying our ecosystem so that we can have better gadgets? Crave loves gadgets and is most confused. -AL