Mobile Phone Recycling in Switzerland: A Potential Gold Mine?

by Isabel GuentherAntoinette van der Merwe (presenting author)

NADEL ETH Zürich

 

Globally mobile phone subscriptions are increasing yearly. In Switzerland, mobile phones are not only the most commonly owned personal electronic device but it is also the device that is replaced most often. Tonnes of minerals are needed to produce all these mobile phones: a single mobile phone contains more than 40 different types of minerals, such as gold, lithium and copper. These minerals are mined all over the world, by large companies and by small artisanal miners. Although these mining activities have contributed to economic growth and employment, it also had substantial environmental and social impacts. However, many of the negative environmental and social impacts of mining can be reduced by producing mobile phones with recycled materials, which could be found in old unused mobile phones or by consumers using their mobile phones for a longer period. We conducted a survey with a representative sample of 2500 respondents from Switzerland to analyse the potential of “urban mining” in Switzerland. The average lifespan of a mobile phone in Switzerland is only two years. About 70% of households still have at least one old mobile phone at home. Recovering these estimated 6.5 million unused mobile phones in Switzerland could be a potential “gold mine”. A fifth of the Swiss population do not know why they keep their old phones. And although about 40% of respondents say they keep their old phone as a back-up device, about 41% of respondents who still have a mobile phone at home are not sure if their old mobile phone still works. Knowledge and security issues do not seem to be a major issue: 90% of respondents know where they could recycle their old phone and only 7% of respondents are wary of recycling because they are afraid that the data on their phone will be misused.