Industry pledges to recover $8 billion of raw materials going to waste in unused handsets

Industry pledges to recover $8 billion of raw materials going to waste in unused handsets


GSMA has spearheaded a new initiative to boost circular economy in the telecom supply chain

As the mobile industry is seeking to move away from its ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to manufacturing and selling mobile phones, the GSMA has facilitated a project led by Tele2 and Orange that has laid out targets to reduce waste and increase the circularity of the supply chain.

Specifically, the 12 operators who have signed up so far will commit to growing take-back schemes so that by 2030, the number of used mobile devices collected amounts to at least 20% of the number of new devices distributed directly to customers.

The operators also committed to boost the recovery of mobiles and prevent devices going to landfill or incineration. By 2030, 100% of used mobile devices collected through these operator’s take-back schemes will be repaired, reused, or transferred to controlled recycling organisations.

It is estimated that five billion devices are currently sitting idle somewhere in the world, while the precious metals and raw materials inside are still fit for use.

“We believe in the need to move to a more circular economy to reduce the impact of mobile technology on the environment” said John Giusti, chief regulatory officer for the GSMA, while applauding the commitments from the 12 operators who signed up to the project.

“In addition to the environmental benefits, more efficient and responsible use of resources could lower costs and make devices more affordable for the unconnected,” Giutsi said.

A refurbished phone can have 87% lower climate impact than a newly manufactured phone, according to the GSMA.

“This initiative underlines the significant momentum under way in the operator community to boost decarbonisation and the circular economy and we are proud to be part of it,” said Philippe Lucas, EVP of devices and partnerships at Orange.

The GSMA estimates that if properly recycled, five billion mobile phones could recover US$8 billion worth of gold, palladium, silver, copper, rare earth elements, and other critical minerals, and enough cobalt for 10 million electric car batteries.

“The growing amount of e-waste, including mobile phones, that is generated each year is not only an environmental challenge for our industry, but also a huge loss of potential financial value,” Erik Wottrich, head of sustainability at Tele2 said.

The 12 operators that have signed up for the scheme include BT Group, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad, KDDI, NOS, Orange, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel, Tele2 and Telefonica.

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