Throwaway culture: just 4% recycle their phones

10 October 2013, 13:44   By Jemma Crutchlow-Porter

BILLIONS of mobile phones enter the UK market every single year yet, according to research released this week, just 4% people recycle their old handsets.

electronic waste recycling
Credit: Fevziie/

Most people now choose to upgrade to a newer model every year or two but four times as many people (16%) throw their old phone in the bin, when upgrading, as recycle them.

"Unfortunately, many people don't know how to dispose of electronics properly," Emma Brown of BidGrid, who conducted the research, commented.

Despite there being a strong emphasis on recycling in modern day society, it seems that mobile users aren't getting the message.

Mobile phone manufacturer Nokia conducted a similar poll in 2008 and got a very similar result: just 3% were recycling their old devices.

In fact, half of those questioned in that global survey didn't even know it was possible to recycle a mobile phone.


To be fair many of those mobiles that aren't officially recycled or binned tend to end up getting a second wind.

The popularity of mobile phone selling sites shows that many choose to wring the last bit of cash out of their handset, rather than just getting rid of it.

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And, according to BidGrid's survey, 27% sell their old handset and 15% give it away, although around a third of phone owners just leave their old mobile in a drawer.

Those figures could suggest that while a minority of mobile phone users are making some effort to get rid of working phones responsibly the outcome will be the same: after trickling down through the hands of relatives and friends, the phones will end up gathering dust or in a landfill site.

Shorter lifespans.. and getting shorter

The rate at which technology develops is much quicker these days, meaning that mobile phones are quickly replaced with newer models. Many choose to update their handset as soon as the opportunity for an early upgrade comes around.

Once a new generation of technology emerges, we are very quick at dumping the old. It's as if we can't bear to be left behind."

Although the UK as a whole is on the verge of entering into this disposable culture, the problem is more acute among younger generations.

For under 21s, the average lifespan of a mobile phone is 23 months.

21-30 year olds manage to hold on to a handset for three years and the over 30s a year longer.

The main driver behind the number of mobiles being thrown away seems to be price.

With the price of electronics falling, most people would rather replace than repair, unless forced to by a warranty.

The environmental impact

While there might not be anything wrong with an eagerness to keep up to date with the latest tech, mobile owners don't seem to be considering the impact their behaviour could have on the environment.

There has been tremendous growth in the number of people recycling in the UK, three-quarters believe it has a positive impact.

So why don't consumers feel the same about their mobiles?

There is evidence of at least some growing awareness.

Telecoms industry researcher group TechNavio predicts that the phone recycling industry will grow by 19% in the next two years.

Somewhat surprisingly, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) claims Britain is top of the class when it comes to recycling electronics, despite the fact that it estimates that 80% of electronic waste is still being sent to landfill.

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