The global mobile industry is moving to recycle and create new use cases for the five billion mobile phones that are currently sitting unused, GSMA has disclosed.

According to the global body for telcos, 12 leading operators had signed up to a new set of pace-setting targets developed by it. It stated that the project, which would be led by Tele2 and Orange, was designed to accelerate and build upon the work already being undertaken by the mobile industry, as it took steps to move away from the traditional ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to the materials used in mobile phones.

It said, “Operators are committing to increase take-back of mobile phones. By 2030, the number of used mobile devices collected through operator take-back schemes amounts to at least 20 per cent of the number of new mobile devices distributed directly to customers, boost recovery of mobiles and prevent devices going to landfill or incineration.”

It stated that by 2030, 100 per cent of used mobile devices collected through operator take-back schemes would be repaired, reused, or transferred to controlled recycling organisations.

The global body for the mobile industry explained that this new set of goals was intended to help reduce e-waste, extend the longevity of mobile devices by giving them a second life, as well as recycle materials to be used in new smartphones.

It noted that a refurbished phone could have 87 per cent lower climate impact than a newly manufactured phone. GSMA estimated that if properly recycled, five billion mobile phones could recover $8bn worth of gold, palladium, silver, copper, rare earth elements, and other critical minerals, and enough cobalt for 10 million electric car batteries.

The Chief Regulatory Officer for the GSMA, John Giusti, said, “Most mobile operators around the world are already taking concrete actions to rapidly cut their carbon emissions over the next decade.

“Moreover, mobile connectivity is playing a major role in helping all sectors of the economy reduce their climate impact, enabling smarter and more efficient manufacturing, transport, and building, to name a few. However, mobile operators are determined to go further.

“We believe in the need to move to a more circular economy to reduce the impact of mobile technology on the environment and applaud the latest commitments from 12 leading operators to accelerate the transition to greater circularity. In addition to the environmental benefits, more efficient and responsible use of resources could lower costs and make devices more affordable for the unconnected.”

According to GSMA, using phone materials effectively could potentially lower the cost of manufacturing mobile phones, and tackle affordability barriers that were preventing more people from getting online.

The Executive Vice President, Devices and Partnerships, Orange, Philippe Lucas, added, “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.

“It is only by working collectively that we can succeed, hence why Orange is playing a pivotal role in driving device longevity in the smartphone ecosystem, working with hardware and OS providers alike. Initiatives like these underscores our unwavering commitment to a sustainable future and will support Orange’s mission to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.”

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