Mobile extraction

MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos talks to Waste Management Review about the recycling process for smartphones and their reuse potential.

With recycling across the board gaining significant attention due to China’s National Sword and resulting policy changes, public trust in the process has been challenged.

“Plastic not so fantastic”, a recent 60 Minutes report, further complicated matters by suggesting the public’s recycling efforts were being wasted on dubious resource recovery.

While waste industry associations say the report didn’t paint a full picture of the Australian recycling industry or its processes, public discussion around China’s National Sword policy continues.

MobileMuster, the federally accredited product stewardship program of the mobile phone industry, is focused on educating the public about the mobile phone recycling process to further confidence in the e-waste resource recovery market and increase mobile phone recycling.

It’s a significant goal given 89 per cent of Australians own a smartphone, according to a 2018 Deloitte Mobile Survey, and many hoard their devices.

Since the product stewardship program began in 1998, MobileMuster has collected and recycled over 1400 tonnes of mobile phone components including handsets and their batteries, chargers and accessories.

To date the program has recycled over 13 million handsets.

MobileMuster works to provide free mobile phone recycling in Australia and is voluntarily funded by all major handset manufacturers and network carriers such as Apple, Google, Telstra and Samsung.

MobileMuster’s 2018 Annual Report estimates that e-waste is growing three times faster than any other waste stream in Australia. It is no surprise then that MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos estimates 25 million unused mobile phones are currently sitting dormant in Australian homes.

“While we know less than two per cent of mobile phones are being thrown into the general waste stream, we need to work to reduce the number of mobiles lying dormant in storage,” Spyro says.

“There is certainly value in recovering the materials inside those phones to reduce wasted resources.”

According to Spyro, what many people don’t know, or rather don’t think about, is their smart phone contains untapped precious metals and raw material, most of which has been mined.

Additionally, smartphones contain many of the materials the waste industry and public at large are accustomed to thinking about, plastic, glass and aluminum, making them full of untapped reuse and recycling potential.

“I am a strong believer in transparency. When someone recycles their mobile phone with MobileMuster, I want them to know exactly what happens and how the various components are being processed,” Spyro says.

“We need to increase the trust of consumers because without their participation, the circular economy breaks down. The industry has an obligation to all its stakeholders to ensure best practice is used when collecting and processing products.”

MobileMuster’s recycling partner is TES, a global electronic waste recycler and lifecycle management service. The two groups have been working together for six years.

According to Spyro, they work to maximise recovery rates and ensure all mobile components are correctly processed.

“Through our recycling process, over 95 per cent of a mobile phone’s material re-enters the supply chain and is used for the fabrication of new products,” Spyro says.

“We transform the device’s waste components into valuable materials for reuse, which means fewer raw materials need to be extracted.”

Spyro says that when someone leaves their old device at one of MobileMuster’s 3500 public drop off points, it is collected and transported to a TES recycling facility in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.

“The device is then disassembled into individual components including batteries, printed circuit boards, casing, screens, accessories and packaging,” Spyro says.

“None of the phones are resold, and any data left on the device is destroyed during the disassembling process.”

Spyro says components are then further processed though shredding and sorting techniques to maximise resource recovery.

“In 2017, TES started using Envirostream to process smartphone batteries, which is a difficult waste stream. At TES facilities in Melbourne, the batteries are granulated and sorted in materials for recycling,” Spyro says.

“The process recovers copper, aluminium, cobalt, nickel, lithium and plastics. The onshore solution also reduces the need to transport the batteries internationally for processing.”

In the age of smartphones and touch screens, glass is another core material in the recycling process.    

“Glass from smartphones is crushed and melted before being reused for new products or as a replacement material in construction elements like roadbase.

“Aluminium is another significant component of mobile phones, and one of the most easily recycled materials. The recycling process uses considerably less energy than producing new aluminium.”

Aluminium is melted in a furnace, with the resulting liquid aluminium placed in moulds to create new products like drink cans, bikes and car bodies.

MobileMuster recycled one million handsets last year, and according to Spyro, the organisation needs to keep that momentum going if they hope to continue effectively tackling e-waste.

“The public need to be sure that when they leave their phone with MobileMuster, almost the entire device is being reused.”

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MobileMuster announces top local government recyclers

Over the past 12 months Hornsby Shire Council has collected 578 kilograms of mobile phones through its recycling centre and MobileMuster drop-off point.

The announcement was made at the Australian Local Government Association’s National General Assembly in Canberra.

MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos said the product stewardship scheme partners with nearly 400 councils around Australia and reaches 18 million residents.

“We are proud to partner with councils like Hornsby Shire Council, who represent a community driven to create a vibrant sustainable environment for themselves and future generations to live and work,” Mr Kalos said.

“The awards demonstrate the importance of industry and local government working together to tackle the growing problem of e-waste and making sure it is safely and securely recycled through an accredited program.”

Mr Kalos said it was important to ensure all communities have access to mobile phone recycling, with an estimated 25 million old mobile phones stockpiled in drawers across Australia.

“Local governments are often the first point of contact for residents and small businesses who want to recycle tricky items like their old mobile phones and accessories,” Mr Kalos said.

“In partnership with MobileMuster, councils can help Australians sustainably declutter their old phones, save precious resources and clean up the environment.”

MobileMuster’s Top Local Government Recyclers 2019:

National – Hornsby Shire Council

New South Wales – Hornsby Shire Council

Northern Territory – Darwin City Council

Queensland – Brisbane City Council

South Australia – City of Tea Tree Gully

Tasmania – Burnie City Council

Victoria – Moonee Valley City Council

Western Australia – City of Stirling

MobileMuster’s Top Local Government Recyclers Per Capita 2019:

National – Shire of Mount Marshall

New South Wales – Bellingen Shire Council

Northern Territory – Alice Springs Town Council

Queensland – Douglas Shire Council

South Australia – District Council of Mount Barker

Tasmania – Break O’Day Council

Victoria – Pyrenees Shire Council

Western Australia – Shire of Mount Marshall

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Mobile Muster calls on Australians to recycle phones in storage

MobileMuster

Mobile Muster is calling on Australians to recycle their old mobile phone after the program was showcased on the ABC’s War on Waste.

The national government accredited mobile phone recycling program is aiming to encourage Australians to take their phones out of storage and recycle them. The program is funded by all of the major handset manufacturers and network carriers to provide the free recycling system.

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Mobile Muster says there are currently more mobile phones in storage than the number of people in the country and estimates that by 2028, that number will reach almost 30 million.

Research shows that three out of four Australians are aware that they can recycle their phones, with Mobile Muster aiming to educate people on how they can recycle responsibly through its program.

Consumer awareness campaigns run by Mobile Muster highlight the environmental and social importance of recycling phones.

It also works closely with councils, workplaces, retailers and schools to raise awareness of mobile phone recycling, while also partnering with charities to give mobile users an added incentive to recycle their phones while doing good for communities.

Image Credit: Mobile Muster

Mobile Muster has established more than 35000 drop off points across Australia and have an agreement with AusPost where phones can be posted for free to be recycled.

Almost $45 million has been invested to develop a solid collection network and awareness campaigns over the last 20 years.

The program recycles 99 per cent of the material from phones and accessories, including glass, plastics and metals, reducing the need for virgin materials.

Mobile Muster Manager Spyro Kalos said most Australians know that we shouldn’t throw their phones in the bin, but many people hang on to them just in case they’re needed which often leads to them being forgotten in a draw.

“We know that recycling can be confusing sometimes, so we cut through that by providing a free and simple way for people to easily recycle their mobile phones. To date, we’ve recycled over 1,300 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories, including 13 million handsets and batteries. But there is always more to do,” he said.

“With millions of phones lying dormant at home, the e-waste problem is getting bigger and we all need to be talking about it more. Mobile phones can and should be recycled when they reach the end of their lives. We can all do our part to fight the war on waste, and it starts at home. That’s why we’re calling all Australians to find their old phones and recycle them the right way – today,” said Mr Kalos.

Featured Image Credit: Mobile Muster