The thought of recycling old mobile phones can leave many consumers with a lot of questions, especially if you’re not familiar with the process. What happens to them? And just where do they end up once they’ve been recycled?

All gadgets can go on to have an incredible second life in the UK or even abroad – and it’s most important that they don’t end up in landfill. But don’t just take our word for it, we asked some of the top recyclers in the market what happens to phones when they’re sent to them (and we snooped around their websites for some information too). Check out the responses below.

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Here’s a glimpse at what happens in the factories in Shenzhen China where the phones get broken down into parts. The key process is to have complete phones to re-sell, devices are broken down to the raw components, then added to other devices. Every part that is not used will be recycled in some way. This is common for most phone recycling factories around the world.

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Envirofone – Official Response

[blockquote style=”1″]There will be over 20 million handsets upgraded in the UK alone this year and that number is set to grow year on year. So what happens to all the phones that are barely 18 months old?

More often than not they are slung in drawers to keep as spares. Never thought about until you upgrade the new one you’ve just got! The phone goes down in value, fast, by a fiver a month some reckon! Doesn’t sound that bad, but when you add in that there is an estimated 4 unused phones per UK household… you’re looking at a potential loss across the UK of £3 billion per year!

What’s worse, they are not exactly biodegradable. Phones aren’t like banana skins, they don’t eventually rot away! The usual road for an unused phone is drawer, to bin, to…landfill!

At Envirofone we receive thousands of phones a day and a whopping 98% of these handsets get reused. We don’t repair the phones at Envirofone but we sell them as they are to Registered Repairers who clean them inside and out, put missing bits back on and generally spruce them up. The mobile then starts a new life often in developing countries where the cost of a new mobile phone to most people is unaffordable.

If they are unable to be reused then they are sent to registered UK recyclers where the metals and plastics are extracted and can be used in anything from jewellery to traffic cones! So people really should consider giving their mobiles a second life.[/blockquote]

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Money4Machines – Official Response

[blockquote style=”1″]We give all handsets that come into us a new home inside the UK. We do this through multiple online sales outlets. Every handset sent to Money4Machines will be refurbished and brought back to the best possible condition we can get them to so often the casing will need to be changed or parts replaced.

If there are any parts we can use from broken or damaged phone then we will use them in the refurbishment process. We do not advertise a price for broken phones as we feel there are companies better suited to this sort of recycling.[/blockquote]

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MobileCashMate – Official Response

[blockquote style=”1″]The Phone Recycling industry has matured quickly over the last 4 years. In the early years it was simply a matter of buying the phones in and then a couple of times a month batching them up and selling them in bulk to China. When I first looked at developing a consumer buy back website there were only about 8 competitors in the marketplace. In the space of 12 months this exploded to over 40 as people realised that there was healthy margins to be made. However that influx of new players very quickly had the effect of slashing margins. As a result we had to box cleaver and find new outlets for the stock and the whole operation became far more sophisticated as a result.

We now operate a facility that can add value to the stock including refurbishment and white boxing. This stock is used for both our own online retail business and other clients within the UK that have a demand for good graded stock.

Older units that are not required for the home market are then sold on to emerging markets where the latest technology is not a priority. We currently sell into Asia, Africa and South America. Whilst we are an Authorized treatment facility (AATF) for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) we rarely have the need to destroy product due to the sophisticated worldwide demand for product to be reused.

To me this is the very core of successful recycling.[/blockquote]

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Money For Your Phone – Official Response

[blockquote style=”1″]Many handsets are resold to wholesalers who then go on to sell on eBay and other sales platforms.

The phones recycled by us are mostly exported however we have seen a recent rise in the number of UK customers who then either resell in the UK or export. We recycle all phones as they are and don’t refurbish however we are seeing a demand for refurbishments and it is something that we will consider in the future.

In the last 5 years we have seen a surge in demand for used mobile phones, much of this is from the developing countries. Many of these countries do not have the infrastructure for fixed lines, simply put, it’s more cost effective to install a mast and service thousands of customers with mobiles than it is to install fixed lines to each.

Though we do not have any direct association with segment of the industry, we do know that there are many recyclable materials in the construction of a phone, so it is not unheard of, especially older lower value phones that have no further use.[/blockquote]

Based on statements from recycler websites

The following recyclers have published content on their website detailing the methods they use to recycle mobile phones and what happens to the phones people recycle.

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Mazuma Mobile

Mazuma say that their phones go on to be used in markets such as China, Africa, Pakistan and India to try and improve widespread communication in places which may have limited landlines. In our other research they also mentioned they only recycled phones with approved partners.

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Bozowi say that their biggest priority is re-using old handsets. However, they group phones into 3 categories. Devices can go on to be used in developing economies such as Asia and Africa, they can be refurbished to go on and be re-sold in UK and emerging markets or they break down the phones to get the valuable metals and materials so they can go on to be used for other things.

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On Fonehub’s website it says phones can be re-used in developing countries or broken down and recycled responsibly to protect the environment.

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Money 4 My Mobile

On their website, Money 4 My Mobile say that mobile phones can be the main form of communication due to lack of landlines in places such as Africa, so that’s where they send some of the working handsets. They also say they re-use as many components of the phone as possible if the phone in beyond repair, all in accordance with the WEEE Directive.

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Money 4 Ur Mobile

Money 4 Ur Mobile’s website also says that phones in working order are predominantly sold on to developing economies, however they make sure that phones that can’t be fixed have the precious components extracted so these materials can go on to become other things.

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Phone Recycle Bank

Phone Recycling Bank’s site states that phones deemed beyond repair are broken down to save important parts, which can even be used to refurbish other broken handsets. They say they have a team of ‘specialist engineers’ who can repair non-working handsets. Any other parts left over are recycled properly within EU legislation.

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So should I recycle my old mobile phone?

Without a shadow of a doubt, you should always recycle your old gadgets in some way. It’s thought that around 7,500 tons of toxic chemicals leaks out of phones into our environment (source: recycling fact sheet) and this is something we desperately need to prevent due to severe health risks.

By selling your old tech to a legitimate, trustworthy recycler you can guarantee that your old tech won’t end up in landfill – instead providing someone else in the UK with a fantastic, working phone, or someone in a developing country with the means of communication. Your old damaged device could even be broken down into parts which could go on to be used for just about anything.

Do you have any more questions you need an answer to? We’re all about the communication – write on our wall, tweet us, add us on Google Plus or you can always be traditional and comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.

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