Unused mobile phones: economic and ecological value under the microscope

Functional but unused mobile phones would lead to impressive savings in CO2, toxicity and precious metals. This type of electronic device is one of the most devastating because of the way we consume it. Previously, a mobile phone was used until it died. From now on, it is a disposable consumer object. Quickly out of fashion, we put aside perfectly functional mobiles in favor of technological innovations. ReBuy, a European network of online shops specialising in the purchase and sale of refurbished electronic devices, commissioned a study on the quantity of discarded mobile phones in 27 countries. Thus, if the ecological or health arguments are not enough, some economic data could well push to take a closer look.

Europe, worst performer in number of unused mobile phones per capita

Of the 27 countries studied, more than a dozen have more than one unused mobile phone per person. Sweden leads the way with 1.31 discarded mobile phones per person. It is closely followed by Finland and its 1.29 laptops aside. Then by the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Estonia, with 1.24 unused mobile phones.

On the other hand, other countries of the world, among the developed countries, show significantly lower results. And these are not the ones we think of instinctively. The countries with the fewest discarded mobile phones per capita are New Zealand (0.54), followed by Canada (0.60) and the United States (0.68).

unused mobile phones recycling occasion
In this ranking, France comes in 11th position, with 1.08 unused mobile per capita.

In total, the amount of unused mobiles,only in the 27 countries of the study, represents a sales value of 1.9 billion euros in precious metals such as gold, silver, palladium, platinum and copper. These same countries are the source of 23,964 tons of electronic waste. For comparison, this equates to more than 54 Boeing 747-8s with maximum take-off weight (442 tons each), or more than 138 blue whales (173 tons each).

Overview of the situation in France

In France, the number of mobile phones in use per capita is estimated at 0.86. Of these, 36% are used phones. On the other hand, the figure increases when we look at the amount of phones discarded. With 1.08 unused mobile phones, the French accumulate 72.8 million phones that could still be used. An impressive number, especially since this figure is free of the 44% of mobiles sent for recycling.

In France alone, mobile phones account for 2,129 tons of electronic waste. That is, 66.4 tons of CO2. Yet 76% of the elements are either recyclable or reusable. By recycling them or putting them back on the market, the country would avoid 24,878 kg of toxicity. These mobiles also represent large sums of precious metals. It is estimated that the selling value of the metals contained in the phones is around 184 million euros.

Some local actions have been organized to collect unused mobiles for precarious populations. This is for example the case in the Bordeaux region in Libourne,or in Saint-Emilion.

unused mobile phones environmental economic value

Used mobile phones, disposal and recycling of unused mobiles

As far as the opportunity is concerned, the results seem consistent with the purchasing power of the countries studied. For this, countries such as Latvia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania have more than 40% of used phones on all phones in use.

In contrast, wealthy countries are rapidly falling below the 30% mark. Belgium, Finland, the United States, New Zealand, Ireland, Austria or the United Kingdom are therefore very little seduced by used mobile phones.

On the other hand, these results are to be nuanced and compared. Thus, with the United States having only 0.68 discarded mobile phones per capita, it would seem that the population is more accustomed to using their phones until they no longer work or are actually obsolete. Thus, it is not illogical not to see them reappear on the second-hand market. The same is true for New Zealand.

In total, Romania, Greece and Canada are the countries with the lowest recycling rates. 11% for Romania; 19% for Greece; 24% for Canada. This is extremely far from the figures posted by the best students. Which are Slovenia with 75% recycling, Germany (67%) and Lithuania (59%)


Mobile Phone E-Waste Index,ReBuy, August 2021

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