Mountains of mobiles
Australian drawers are filled with unwanted phones and disposing of them is proving a headache, writes Jennifer Dudley- Nicholson
AUSTRALIANS are hoarding more than 22 million unwanted mobile phones despite a national service that will recycle the old handsets free of charge.
But the scheme, funded by the mobile phone industry, cannot afford to recycle them all and a prominent environmentalist has accused the group of failing to do as much as it should to collect and reuse the massive stockpile.
The recycling program, Mobile Muster, is run by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association and is funded by handset levies paid by phone makers and the country’s four major telcos.
Participating phone makers include Samsung, Motorola, HTC, LG and Sony, each of which pays 30c per phone while Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile contribute 12c per handset.
Mobile Muster recycling manager Rose Read says the contributions add up to a budget of $ 3.5 million a year, up to half of which goes on marketing and promotion.
But, at a rough cost of 68c per phone, the organisation would need almost $ 15 million to recycle Australia’s old phone stash.
Do Something founder Jon Dee says the Mobile Muster program deserves credit for raising the profile of phone recycling in Australia and for establishing more than 4500 collection bins.
But he says it is underfunded and its efforts smack of a ‘‘ greenwash’’ in which the industry wants to be seen as environmentally friendly without fully funding its effort.
Furthermore, Dee says there is a simple way to raise phone donations in Australia: send an SMS message to each phone user once or twice a year during peak phone upgrade times.
‘‘ The mobile phone industry should be the leading industry when it comes to recycling rates because they are the only industry that has contact details for every customer,’’ Dee says.
‘‘ They look like they’re doing something but if they’re really serious they would send an SMS message to everyone. My challenge to them is to stop talking about this and text everyone in the leading sales period, when everyone is going into Telstra and Optus stores, and give them a reminder.’’
Currently, Mobile Muster recycles less than 10 per cent of Australia’s mobile phones.
Since June 2005, the scheme has tracked shipments of 53.19 million phones into Australia and has recycled 4.17 million mobile phones and phone batteries – just 7.8 per cent of the total.
Read says Mobile Muster stops about half of all discarded mobile phones going to landfill.
‘‘ Roughly 80 per cent of people keep hold of their phones,’’ she says.
‘‘ We reach half of the 20 per cent who don’t. All those phones stashed away at home aren’t available for us to recycle. People don’t want to give them up.’’
Awareness of mobile phone recycling has risen since the scheme was launched, however it now sits at 84 per cent.
Just 64 per cent of mobile phone makers participate in the Australian program – down from 90 per cent due to Apple’s popularity and its decision to go it alone on phone recycling.
The US firm offers free recycling of any mobile phone through its website, though Read says it does not actively promote the scheme.
Apple also does not release local recycling figures, though worldwide it aims to recycle 70 per cent of the weight of its products sold seven years earlier. Read says Apple’s refusal to join the Australian scheme is ‘‘ unfortunate’’.
‘‘ It would be great if they could join because it would add a lot more weight to the program and we would achieve a lot more in terms of encouraging people to recycle,’’ she says.
Mobile Muster plans to launch a new promotion this month but Dee argues contacting mobile phone owners directly would be more successful.
‘‘ If they really believe no one is going to bring phones in ( after a text message reminder), then they have nothing to worry about,’’ he says.
‘‘ If they are successful, it’s great for the environment.’’