There is a growing business in recycling old or busted mobile phones for their spare parts and the milligrams of gold, palladium, silver, copper and lithium they contain.
Starship Foundation CEO Brad Clark says the Starship Mobile Phone Appeal has raised more than $1.5 million from more than 450,000 donated phones since the campaign launched in Feb 2009. An Irish metals recycling company called Folamh takes care of the entire process for Starship.
New Zealand recycling company Paidformobiles will pay NZ$1.50 for an old Nokia 6210 or a 6230 in working order. If the phone is not working the price is 75 cents.
Paidformobiles CEO Rodney Featherstone explains: “We process all these phones in our Hong Kong/China Office in order to keep the costs as low as possible. We separate batteries in New Zealand for shipment, and perform inventory and recording processes here with low level grading.
“Once in Hong Kong our office over there grades into three categories; phones that are working and can be resold into other global markets, phones that can be refurbished and sold into other global markets and phones that can be stripped for parts and any non-usable parts sent to recycling facilities.
“It is the stripped and non-usable parts that then get sold for plastics, and metals re purposing. There are a number of locations for the meltdown of metals, one is in Singapore and the others we use are in China.”
Featherstone says estimates put the average haul of gold from a tonne of scrap cellphones to be 340 grams per tonne. This is compared to 170 grams from a tonne of raw gold ore.
The Basel Action Network has introduced The Basel Convention set of rules which recommend safe practices for recycling e-waste including phones.
Both New Zealand and China have ratified the Basel Convention.
But the trade in secondhand phones flying to Asia for parts recycling is in doubt because new aviation rules may stifle business.
Lithium-ion batteries were blamed on a 2010 UPS freight plane crash in Dubai killing both pilots.
As a result strict rules are being introduced in 2013 on the cargo of lithium batteries which could make it unprofitable to recycle phones for spare parts alone.
Industry insiders say freight by sea takes too long as the pace of change in the phone industry is so fast that by the time the product arrives it is too far out of fashion.