80 million cell phones are discarded every year in mainland China due to the tendency of users to replace their phones, according to Guangzhou-based newspaper New Express. The average frequency for replacement is currently about once every 8-12 months. Similar to other e-waste products like desktop computers and laptops, cell phones tend to have an especially quick update cycle as a result of continuous innovation and the implementation of new features in new products.
Mobile phones, not dissimilar to traditional computers, contain a large variety of non-biodegradable materials including heavy metals like copper, lead, and mercury. Environmental experts say heavy metals pollute the soil and contaminate the water table. It is said that a single recycled battery releases 100 times more pollutants than a regular battery and is able to taint up to 60,000 liters of water.
In recent years cheap mobile computing technology has penetrated vast sections of the world making recycling programs all the more imperative. Last year, total smartphone shipments in China surpassed 450 million, making up 40% of total global smartphone shipments.
More concerning is that China receives and processes as much as 70% of global e-waste. Guiyu in South China’s Guangdong province is the so-called ‘e-waste capital of the world’. It is estimated that up to 60% of e-waste recycling in Guiyu takes place in small family-operated businesses with significant environmental pollution taking place as a result of informal recycling processes.
The major difference between China and many of the world’s other industrialized economies is the lack of progress in China on recycling programs for mobile phones. To date, China has implemented white waste product recycling programs for things like televisions and refrigerators but has not as yet included mobile phones in these programs. Much of the waste being processed in places like Guiyu stems from obsolete computers, laptops and cathode ray tube monitors.
(Image credit: baselactionnetwork; top photo from Baidu.)