Electronic recycling: what should I do with my old cell phone?

As of: 12/29/2021 12:06 p.m.

Germans buy a new mobile phone every two to three years on average. The old devices are either disposed of incorrectly – or not at all. Would a cell phone deposit help?

This year, too, there were certainly many smartphones under the Christmas tree. Around the same number of old devices have become obsolete for their previous users. However, they contain valuable raw materials that have so far been reused far too seldom.

Under no circumstances should smartphones be disposed of with household waste

The digital association Bitkom found in a survey that more than 200 million old cell phones are stored in private homes. “That doesn’t help anyone,” states Rolf Buschmann from the environmental protection organization BUND. He appeals to bring functioning devices back into circulation as far as possible. “It makes most sense to give away used smartphones to friends or relatives,” says Buschmann. Alternatively, they can also be sold online.

Under no circumstances should old smartphones be disposed of with household waste. Buschmann sees the handing in of still functional cell phones at recycling centers and returning them to electrical retailers as critical. “There is a risk that the smartphone will end up in the shredder together with other electronic devices,” believes the environmentalist. “Anyone who gives their smartphone to a collection point should ensure that a functionality check is carried out there,” is Buschmann’s recommendation. Because the basic rule is that reusing or reusing is more environmentally friendly than recycling.

Only a small part of the cell phones are reusable

According to its own account, the Cologne-based company Mobile Box is trying to make smartphones ready for reuse. However, the success rate is not very high. According to Mobile Box, ten to 20 percent of the collected cell phones are suitable for reuse, the rest is recycled. Telekom also provides similar information with a view to its own collection program.

O2 / Telefonica cooperates with the nature conservation association NABU in its collection program. The success rate is apparently much lower here. The company collects 110,000 old devices every year. Of these, however, only devices “in the low four-digit range” are suitable for re-marketing, informs O2 on request.

Demand for cell phone deposit

Recycling in specialized plants can also help the environment. Valuable metals such as gold, silver, copper and cobalt are extracted from old cell phones. “After recycling, metals are just as good as new metals; they can be used again for a new cell phone,” explains environmental expert Henning Wilts from the Wuppertal Institute. “With the exception of the plastic cover, almost everything in the smartphone can be recycled,” he explains. In economic terms, however, the effort is not necessarily worthwhile: “Recycling yields material worth around 80 cents,” says Wilts.

For this reason, environmental associations have long been demanding a cell phone deposit that would be incurred when buying new devices. As a result, so at least one hope, more devices would be returned. “With larger quantities, it would also be more economically viable to recycle the devices,” argues environmental expert Wilts.

Environment Ministry open to deposit system

Such considerations definitely meet with open ears in the Federal Government. “In the future, a deposit system can also be an incentive for newly acquired mobile devices,” says Bettina Hoffmann, Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Environment Ministry, which is led by the Greens.

However, the ministry did not explain how much such a cell phone deposit could be on request. Two years ago, the Green parliamentary group brought a sum of 25 euros per smartphone and tablet into play.

Apparently the federal government could count on broad support from the population with such a regulation. In a representative Forsa survey in June, 87 percent of those questioned were in favor of a cell phone deposit. The survey was commissioned by the German Federal Environment Foundation.


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