Mobile makers sign up for recycling

Every year 15 million old handsets join the mobile phone mountain in the UK alone - this is 1,5000 tonnes of hazardous waste. Now manufacturers have committed to do something about it

Mobile phone manufacturers have signed a declaration to tackle the problem of recycling mobile phones.

The manufacturers will work with an initiative by the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) called the Basel Convention, to tackle the growing mobile phone mountain generated by out-of-date equipment.

Supporting the proposed mobile phone initiative are LG, Matsushita (Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Philips, Samsung, Siemens and Sony Ericsson. Between them they shipped an estimated 380 million units in 2001; Nokia has said it expected 400 million handset units to be sold worldwide for 2002.

Some 90 million mobile phones are believed to be lying unused in the UK alone -- a pile that is expanding by up to 15 million every year, and which equates to 1,500 tons of hazardous waste. Recycling the phones means that rather than simply throwing them into landfill sites, the handsets -- which include precious metals such as platinum and silver, as well as dangerous elements such as lithium and in some cases cadmium -- are carefully broken down and their constituent parts recovered for later use.

The agreement is the first concrete initiative to be developed between governments and companies within the framework of the Basel Convention, said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of Unep. "Modern society must face up to the problem that we produce too much waste," he said. "Companies are clearly an essential part of the solution, and this initial expression of willingness by leading mobile phone manufacturers should serve as a model and an inspiration for other business sectors."

Philippe Roch, state secretary for Switzerland, who did much of the work to launch the initiative, said in a statement: "The information age has brought extraordinary benefits to humankind. I am very pleased that manufacturers of the mobile phone... are reinforcing their integrated product policies by focusing on their products' environmental. Tackling the environmental implications of mobile phones through this initiative will provide a good example of cooperation between economic sectors and multilateral environmental agreements."

Officials said that to be successful, this initiative will require the support of other stakeholders, particularly network providers. In the UK, all five network operators are already involved in one scheme, called Fonebak, which aims to reuse or recycle the UK's stockpile of phones. But they have yet to get mobile manufacturers involved.

In September, the British government lent its support to the Fonebak scheme. Unwanted mobile phones can be posted to Fonebak, and all five mobile operators are expected to provide special Freepost envelopes to their customers. Handsets can also be dropped in at Currys, Dixons, The Link and PC World stores, or at the retail outlets of the mobile operators.

If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away.

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.