Collateral damage of digital economy: The accumulation of e-waste as a byproduct of mobile services proliferation
National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russian Federation
Digital economy is sustained by the growing proliferation of mobile services, making mobile phones the necessary connectivity tools, which often become e-waste when replaced. The seminal report by UN University showed that material content of mobile phones is similar to other contemporary electronic devices and includes strategically important, valuable and potentially toxic materials. In the US, the largest world’s producer of electronic waste, research has been done to evaluate on a national scale consumer behavior related to disposing obsolete television sets, but not mobile phones. This study analyzes nationally-representative U.S. data from a unique web-based survey conducted in 2010 to investigate consumers’ behavior in regards to frequency of replacing their mobile phones as well as to propensity to recycle the old mobile phone devices in the American households. Using internal (beliefs, attitudes and past pro-environmental behavior) and external (socio-economic) variables, this paper estimates count models to uncover the factors affecting recycling of mobile phones in the U.S. In addition, the discrete choice models are used to analyze the likelihood of recycling old mobile devices by U.S. households in accordance to local collection schemes in place. Finally, we use available estimates of materials contained in an average cell phone to evaluate the volumes of precious and critical metals as potential resources stored in the old non-recycled mobile phones that American households keep at home. This information will be helpful for developing more effective collection and recycling policies for mobile phones.