The largest collection network: MobileMuster

Spyro Kalos, MobileMuster General Manager, speaks with Waste Management Review about the product stewardship scheme’s 21st anniversary and shifting approaches to sustainability.

While Australians are early adopters of technology, the length of mobile phone ownership remains relatively stable, with half the population using their mobile phone for two or more years, according to MobileMuster research.

Reuse and repair rates are also rising, as the circular economy concept continues to take root.

Aside from shifting supply chains, one of the most important circular economy outcomes is changing the public’s attitudes when it comes to reuse, repair and recycling. People are realising that an out-of-date phone doesn’t need to become waste. It can be reused through sale or passed on to family and friends.

Spyro Kalos, MobileMuster General Manager, says to support the growing reuse and repair market, MobileMuster has developed education resources and partnered with several leading commercial reuse programs.

“Traditionally, refurbished devices were shipped to developing markets overseas, but there is a growing demand for refurbished devices locally,” he says.

“When a device has no commercial resale value however, consumers are encouraged to recycle them with MobileMuster.”

Spyro says MobileMuster’s expansion into reuse and repair education is typical for the program, which since 1998, has continued to adapt and grow in line with advancing technology and consumer expectations.

Celebrating its 21st birthday earlier this year, Spyro says MobileMuster began as a standard take-back program.

“Since it began, MobileMuster has collected over 1500 tonnes of mobile phone components, and now operates the most extensive drop off network of any stewardship program in the country,” he says.

At an anniversary event at Sydney’s The Mint in early November, Spyro highlighted the importance of collaboration and building strong relationships with collection network stakeholders.

“Our collection partners are critical to the success of the program. They are motivated and actively engage in supporting our work, including raising awareness to get more people recycling,” he says.

“We have also seen a significant growth in the number of repair stores joining the program, with over 220 stores now participating as a collection point,” he says.

The event was attended by Telstra Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association Chair Jane van Beelen and Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans. Spyro says the event highlights how far the scheme has grown.

MobileMuster collected and recycled 84.1 tonnes of mobile phone components in 2019, including 1.2 million handsets and batteries. Spyro adds that one in three Australians have recycled a mobile phone since the program began.

“The success of our scheme relies on raising awareness through promotions, and addressing barriers to recycling through education,”
he says.

“We are committed to continuing to invest in the next generation of mobile phone users, educating them about the impact of their mobiles and how to act for a sustainable future.”

In addition to behavioural and awareness changes, Spyro says MobileMuster is committed to a high recovery rate through its recycling process, and notes that the design of mobiles phones has changed over the programs 21 years

“The material make-up of mobiles is always changing. Manufacturers are using more glass and metals than ever before – material that is highly recyclable and also in demand,”
he says.

With public scrutiny increasingly focused on the recycling industry, Spyro says MobileMuster is committed to total process transparency.

“The program only uses a single recycling partner, which helps us understand their end to end operations. We also audit their recycling processes yearly,” he says.

“Additionally, our recycling partner has experience working under Basel Convention rules, along with the importing and exporting of hazardous waste.”

Looking to the future, Spyro says MobileMuster will work closely with its members, stakeholders and the government to ensure the program’s continued success.

“Over the past five years, collections have remained high with MobileMuster meeting its targets and key performance indicators under the Product Stewardship Act’s voluntary accreditation,” he says.

“That said, there is always room for improvement. We need more consumers participating because, without them, we have a fundamental flaw in the circular economy concept.”

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MobileMuster releases 2019 Annual Report

Mobile telecommunication product stewardship scheme MobileMuster has released its 2019 Annual Report, to coincide with its 21st anniversary.

MobileMuster celebrated its 21st anniversary at The Mint in Sydney, with Telstra Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs and Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association Chair Jane van Beelen and Assistant Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Minister Trevor Evans.

MobileMuster Manager Spyro Kalos said the report examines the schemes performance in 2019, as well as the significant progress of the organisation over the last 21 years.

After 21 years of operation, MobileMuster is Australia’s oldest product stewardship scheme.

“The success of the program to date demonstrates how the industry can work together voluntarily to deliver social and environmental outcomes,” Mr Kalos said.

“We are committed to continuing to invest in the next generation of mobile phone users, educating them about the impact of their mobiles and how to act for a sustainable future.”

Since 1998, the program has collected and recycled nearly 1500 tonnes of mobile phones and accessories, including over 14 million handsets and batteries.

“Further, in this year alone, MobileMuster collected and recycled 84.1 tonnes of mobiles, their batteries, chargers and accessories and through the process, recovered metals, glass and plastics, averting 188 tonnes of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of planting 4840 trees,” Mr Kalos said.

Through the program’s recycling processes, over 95 per cent of the material from mobile phones and accessories is recovered and used to manufacture new products.

“With an estimated 25 million mobiles being stored by Australians, we hope to get more Australians recycling,” Mr Kalos said.

“In addition, we are working towards zero waste to landfill, that means no mobiles will be disposed of in the general waste stream.”

According to the report, MobileMuster has an industry participation level of 92 per cent, including Alcatel, Apple, Google, HMD Global (Nokia), HTC, Huawei, Microsoft, Motorola and Oppo.

To read the report click here.

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Vivo Mobile joins MobileMuster

Smartphone manufacturer Vivo Mobile has joined the mobile telecommunication industry’s recycling program and product stewardship scheme MobileMuster.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association Chief Executive Officer Chris Althaus said the program recovers over 95 per cent of the material in a mobile phone, which is then reused to manufacture new products.

“The mobile telecommunications industry is delighted to welcome Vivo Mobile to our world-class recycling program,” Mr Althaus said.

“Our members work together to ensure we keep old mobiles out of the general waste stream and recycle them in a responsible, secure and environmentally sound way, placing reusable commodities back into the supply chain.”

Vivo Mobile Chief Executive Officer Fred Liu said the company was excited to join the government accredited program, as it looks to enter the Australian market.

“Being part of this industry led initiative gives us great confidence that when our customers have finished using their smartphones along with any accessories, they will be recycled to the highest environmental standard,” Mr Liu said.

Since the MobileMuster program began in 1998, it has diverted more than 1400 tonnes of mobiles and accessories from landfill, including over 13 million handsets and batteries.

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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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