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5.3 billion mobile phones will become e-waste in 2022: Study

When you buy a new phone, what do you do with your old one? Some people would recycle their device or trade it in. Others, however, would just keep their mobile phones inside closets or throw it in the trash.

This exactly what the international non-profit organization Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum recently found, as part of its International E-Waste Day on Friday, October 14. According to them, out of 16 billion mobile phones being used worldwide, 5.3 billion will become e-waste in 2022 (via Digital Trends).

To put that number into context, the WEEE Forum said that if phones have an average depth of 9 millimeters and were piled on top of one another, the stack would rise 31,000 miles/50,000 kilometers. This is 20 times higher than the International Space Station, and one-eighth of the way to the moon.

"Despite their valuable gold, copper, silver, palladium and other recyclable components, experts expect a majority [of mobile phones] will disappear into drawers, closets, cupboards or garages, or be tossed into waste bins bound for landfills or incineration," the forum said in a blog post.

The WEEE Forum's slogan for this year’s E-Waste Day is: “Recycle it all, no matter how small.”

"We focussed [sic] this year on small e-waste items because it is very easy for them to accumulate unused and unnoticed in households, or to be tossed into the ordinary garbage bin," said WEEE Forum director general Pascal Leroy. "People tend not to realize that all these seemingly insignificant items have a lot of value, and together at a global level represent massive volumes.”

According to the forum, mobile phones are one of the most hoarded small electronic devices today.

To understand why people hold on to their old gadgets instead of recycling or repairing them, the WEEE Forum conducted a survey involving 8,775 European households in six countries representing the European Union. The top answers included:

  1. I might use it again in the future (46%)

  2. I plan on selling it / giving it away (15%)

  3. It has sentimental value (13%)

  4. It might have value in the future (9%)

  5. I don’t know how to dispose of it (7%)

  6. Didn’t have time, forgot about it, does not take up too much space (3%)

  7. Planned use in secondary residence (3%)

  8. Presence of sensitive data (2%)

  9. There is no incentive to recycle (1%)

Last year, Samsung revealed that its recycling program took in only 0.0019% of old phones that it sold since 2015. It is assumed that some of these devices are still being used by the original purchaser, sold in the second-hand market, or even disposed of as general waste.

"Over the past decade, the growth in generated e-waste has been considerably higher than the growth in recycling," according to Dr. Kees Baldé, a lead researcher behind the Global e-Waste Monitor. "Thus, it is important to remind people of the importance of reusing or returning every single piece of electronics or electrical product that is forgotten about in household drawers."

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