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Innovations in mobile phone recycling: biomining to dissolving circuit boards

September 30, 2014

Innovations in mobile phone recycling: biomining to dissolving circuit boards

More than 1.8bn mobile phones were bought in 2013, but within just a few years, 44% of them could end up “hibernating” in drawers according to research from Hywel Jones, a materials scientist at Sheffield Hallam University. He estimates that the same share will be resold and passed on, 4% will end up in landfills and only 3% will be recycled.

The recycling challenge
Jones unsurprisingly sees major environmental and resource implications in the lack of phone recycling. Each phone contains about 300mg of silver and 30mg of gold. Between now and the end of 2020, 10m tonnes of electronic products will be purchased in the UK. This will include silver, gold and platinum group metals with an estimated total market value of £1.5bn.

Of the 20 different materials in a phone, only a small fraction are ever recuperated, even in the most sophisticated electronics recycling plants such as the huge smelting and electrolysis facility run by metals firm Umicore in Antwerp. In developing countries, where manual disassembly of electronics often takes place, the recovery rate is far lower and comes with the added risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals.

In a bid to head off this growing problem, private technology firms are developing systems to make phone recycling easier, cheaper and less hazardous. Academics meanwhile are hoping that designs for extending the useful life of phones (such as modular phones featuring replaceable components and “skins” that look better with age) can prevent them from being left in drawers in the first place.

Read more at The Guardian.

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