Mobile Phones, the Environment, and the Circular Economy

Here at Electric Corby we like to do two things, think big and think green. If you’re anything like myself, you have your phone on you at all times, even as you read this it probably sits adjacent to your laptop screen. The fact of the matter is that mobile phones have become an essential part of our daily lives, to such an extent people can become anxious from not having access to their phones or a network, otherwise referred to as ‘Nomophobia’.

My inspiration for this piece stems from Ian Cook who produced a journal article entitled “Follow the thing: Papaya”. The article looks to connect users with the lifecycle of their commodities, and what goes into making them. We recently ran a workshop as part of our CleanTech series, which looked at the circular economy and how lifestyles and buying habits can be adapted to support the environment.

So what’s so big about mobile phones I hear you ask, other than the size of the latest IPhone screen which appears to grow larger with every installation. This article explores the environmental damage and injustice resulting from your mobile phone, the very phones we all so willingly dispose of every two years when our contract renewal is pending. Here are some alarming statistics regarding mobile phones to contemplate:

• There are more than four billion mobile phone users worldwide

• 50 million mobile phones are bought in the UK each year

• There are more mobile phones in the world then there are people

• Only 15% of mobile phones are recycled in Europe

• Over 90% of the materials in mobile phones can be recovered

• 11,250 tonnes of phones are hiding in drawers across the UK

• To make one phone, over 2kgs of raw material are required

I am one of those guilty of upgrading my phone as soon as possible and leaving a perfectly functioning device lying in a draw discarded. So, why the need to recycle exactly? The production of phones uses the equivalent of 36kg of CO2 for each 90 gram phone. Much of the E-Waste is then dumped illegally on developing nations to complete the cycle of environmental devastation. What is even more alarming is the damage done to the environment in excavating the resources required for the production of our phones (as is seen in the Bangka Islands), and the illicit organisations who are the beneficiaries of the plundering of our eco-system.

The issues spread much further than environmental damage. There is evidence to show that in order to get the materials to mass create these mobile phone, militia groups are carrying out mass atrocities, violating human rights, and enslaving children to work in disgraceful and barbaric environments. It is even estimated by the United Nations that armed groups control 50% of the mines in the mineral rich Congo area. If you want to know more about this, then have a read here.

So there you have it, not only are we all guilty to some extent of not recycling our phones, or at least 85% of us are, but we are also guilty of funding the unnecessary damage to the environment and eco-systems of third world countries in our need to acquire the newest phone model on the block. Such activities have been shown to fund militias who maintain and advocate deplorable human right abuses. But 2015 is both a new year, and a chance for a new you. Let’s exclude ourselves from the spiralling race to the bottom, and in the process, we keep our homes clutter free, our eco-systems healthy, and our conscious clean.


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