Unlocking Mobile Phones’ Hidden Treasure

In 2010, 135 million mobile phones ended up in landfills or incinerators in the US alone, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted resources and raising the risk of soil and groundwater contamination. But consumers need a stronger incentive to recycle their old phones, and mandatory deposits could provide it.

KIEL – Would you throw gold, silver, or other precious metals into the trash? Probably not intentionally. But if you have thrown away an old mobile phone, not realizing that it contains a host of recyclable metals, you are not alone; the average American disposes of a mobile phone every two years, with only one out of ten dismantled and recycled.

While the value of the metals in each phone is low, the massive number of phones that end up in landfills or incinerators – roughly 135 million in the United States alone in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency – amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted resources annually. Given that mining landfills for mobile phones is expensive and inefficient, consumers need a stronger incentive to recycle their old devices. A compulsory deposit on mobile phones could provide it.

Although collection agencies offer cash in exchange for old mobile phones, few people know that they exist. For those who do, the promise of a few dollars is inadequate to motivate them to expend the time and effort needed to find and go to a collection point. Indeed, the payment will probably not even cover the cost of the gas needed to get there.

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