Reflections on the Funky Phone Challenge: Why should we recycle our mobile devices?

By: Mathis Gilsbach and aleksandra jovanovic

Whether you are  reading this article on a smartphone right now, or a laptop, it most definitely will be an electronic device with a screen, unless you had somebody write down this article per hand for your reading pleasure. All kinds of electronic devices, most notably, smartphones and computers have become omnipresent in our lives, to the extent that we wouldn’t even know how to survive without. But what happens when our smartphones and other devices, end their life of service. We use them daily but seldom think about what materials are in the electronic products we use every day, we don‘t know where the resources to make them come from nor what happens to them after we throw them away.

To give you some more information about these topics we decided to write an informative article on e-waste.

What is e-waste?

E-waste refers to any electronic device that is being discarded, either because it is defunct or because it is being replaced by a new one. To get a sense of scale, worldwide we produce about 50 million tons of e-waste every single year, tendency rising. And alone in the US over 57 million phones are thrown away per year.


Why should you care about e-waste:

There are two main arguments: the moral argument and the economic argument.

In the current system a large amount of our e-waste gets dumped in garbage sites in Africa and Asia where locals, often children, almost always under horrendous conditions sort the trash to get everything out that is remotely valuable. They are working without any notable protection, surrounded by toxic clouds, emanating from the burning plastic piles. This has to do with a lack of regulation in the export market for e-waste. With an increase in recycling there would be a strong incentive to keep the e-waste and recycle it properly instead of exporting it to dumping sites on the other side of the world.

Source: National Geographic

The economic argument is as follows: at the current rate of use, many of the materials required for electronic products will only last for about 10-20 years if we get them fresh from the mines. At the same time there are millions and millions of phones which are being thrown away each year. And the depth of recycling, how much of the materials can be re-used if properly recycled is rather high at around 95%. When the mined materials will become sparser, recycling will only become more profitable: To give an example, in one Smartphone are on average 30mg of gold and 305mg of Silver. That may not seem like much but but if you compare how much gold you get out of 1000kg of smartphones versus 1000kg of rubble in a mine, the numbers become more impressive, from the phones you can get about 300g of gold and from the rubble only about 3g. Now combine that with the enormous amount of thrown away phones and it becomes a substantial source for materials.

Samsung SGH-X660 – rear cover and printed circuit board

Funky Phone Challenge: Lets collect and recycle those unused phones!

It now becomes clear that traditional mobile phones and smartphones are more precious that we are actually aware of.  However, besides creating awareness on the potential of e-waste recycling, our goal is to stimulate YOU to get your unused phones a better future. Dear human beings, it is time for some action!

The most important measure for increasing the optimization potentials in the recycling chain for smartphones is clearly to raise the currently low collection rates.
This is just one of the many reasons Leiden University Green Office decided to participate in the Funky Phone Challenge organized by E-Waste Arcades. E-Waste Arcades is a young and sustainable startup from Eindhoven, founded by designer Joris Petterson and transition scientist Timmy de Vos. In this competition, we are accepting the challenge of collecting as many old phones as possible. This way, the unused mobile devices can be either refurbished or recycled for which the raw materials are brought back into the cycle. Circular economy it is!

A Unique Collection Infrastructure

Of course, the young entrepreneurs are aware that an improved collection infrastrure with targeted information is needed to increase the collection rate, and hence, recycling rate.
The old phones are collected with the E-waste Arcade: a game console cabinet built from discarded electronics that reward you with fun games for returning a discarded phone. Lets make recycling fun!

So instead of your phones lying around your home(s) or ending up in developing countries via illegal exports of waste equipment, you can choose a better future for these mobile devices.
And, why not recycle while playing a game against your friends during a study break? No challenge is possible without YOU… We need your help! Lets beat those other universities!

Phones can be handed in until the 8th of February.
Also: you can get a FREE voucher for a soup from uw this week from 11am-13pm at the E-Waste Arcade (Lipsius).

To keep track of the collected phones, see:

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