Each organization that collects used mobile phones has their own practices, policies and partners, so we don’t want to speak on their behalf, but we’ll try to give you a general overview.
Mobile phones are first collected by a recycling company. They dismantle the phones and sort the components, including batteries, circuit boards, plastics and metals. The batteries are sorted by type (lithium ion and NiMH) and processed to remove the cobalt, lithium, nickel, cadmium, etc. Circuit boards are processed for precious metals like gold, silver, copper and lead. Plastic materials (like casings) are shredded to be used in new products. Accessories are separated into their plastic and metal components and handled accordingly. Each of these steps is carried out by different specialist companies.
But this is where the truth gets a bit uncomfortable. There are certainly organizations that carry out this process in an environmentally safe and ethical way. However, many countries (including the US) don’t have laws that prevent the export of toxic e-waste. So they ship their discarded electronics to less developed countries to be processed there. This e-waste is then often improperly dismantled and burned, producing toxic emissions that are harmful to workers and their communities, not to mention the environment.
That’s why for every Fairphone 1 sold, we’re contributing €3 to Closing the Loop, an organization that sets up projects in countries where safe e-waste recycling is not yet facilitated.
Read how you can recycle your old phone or phone battery.