How many unused smartphones have Poles?

If all the smartphones lying in people's drawers were placed one behind the other a path would be created leading from Warsaw to… Lisbon! In connection with Earth Day on 22 April, it is worth reminding that, although we are doing better and better in many environmental areas, in some, our efforts are still too sluggish. One of such areas is electro-waste – in the EU waste electrical and electronic equipment is the fastest growing waste stream 1 .

Statistics show that every European produces approx. 15.6 kg of electrical waste, of which less than half (7 kg) is collected and recycled 2 . These include smartphones and other mobile devices. According to Digital Care research, in Poland, each household has on average two "old", unused smartphones in its drawer, which makes approx. 30 million unused devices. It is worth remembering that in case of unused phone there are two options. One scenario is to leave it in a drawer – which carries some risk. The alternative solution is much more eco-friendly and means that we give it a second life.

Precious treasure in a drawer or a ticking bomb?

There comes a time in the life of every smartphone when its user exchanges it for another model. If we decide to put our used equipment deep into the closet – and this is the case with every second smartphone – we may waste valuable, often non-renewable resources. The inside of an old phone is a "mine" of precious metals, which are often extracted under very difficult conditions.

Not everyone knows that gold, platinum, silver or copper extracted from old electronic equipment can be used to make dental fillings or even musical instruments 3 . Of each one million smartphones can be obtained on average:

  • 350 kg of silver, which can be used to make e.g. 35 thousand. chains,
  • 34 kg of gold, of which can be created for example. 17 thousand. rings.

An excellent example of recycling electronics can be seen in Japan, where 6 million used phones were used to make Olympic medals for the Tokyo Olympics.

The second type of materials, this time hazardous, that are found in every smartphone are the components of the lithium-ion battery. Lithium ion batteries can be damaged when crushed or punctured, posing a risk of spontaneous combustion and subsequent fire. This will not happen during everyday use of a cell phone, but maybe when we decide to throw the phone away.

Unused or broken phone is best to return it to a special point or give it to companies, which deal with refurbishing of smartphones and putting them back on the market. Such action is fully consistent with the idea of circular economy. As the data from the device buy-back program conducted together with T-Mobile shows, this trend will gain more and more importance as it allows to give mobile devices a second life and extend their life cycle – he explains Tomasz Nowak, Head of Circular Economy in Digital Care.

Replacing it with a better model gains new meaning

Even though the average user changes their phone every two years, mobile operators are increasingly keen to reduce the amount of new equipment on the market.

Our range of brand new devices is complemented by refurbished phones. We see growing interest in this category among many groups of our clients – individual clients, sole proprietors as well as large corporations. – explains Kuba Pancewicz, Director of Terminal and Supply Chain Management at T-Mobile Poland.Consumers are increasingly looking for environmentally responsible solutions that also offer value for money. However, expanding our product portfolio with refurbished handsets is first and foremost an expression of our business strategy, based on our ESG goals, in which care for the planet and a sustainable approach are among the most important elements – adds.

When considering the choice between a new and refurbished phone, it is worth considering the carbon footprint produced in production and the raw materials used. The differences are clearly visible. To produce a new smartphone, it takes approx. 44 kg of minerals, from which about 130 g of minerals are extracted. To be renewed – between 4 and 10 kg. This is even more evident on the example of the carbon footprint. A refurbished phone emits 11 kg of CO2, a new one 56 kg 4 . This is a difference of as much as 45 kg of CO2!

Digital Care is the largest provider of services for mobile devices on the Polish market, operating since 2012. It cooperates with cell phone networks, mobile device manufacturers and their distributors. The company currently operates in 12 markets in Europe, Asia and Africa and collectively serves over 3.8 million customers worldwide.