This article is more than 1 year old

Five billion phones are dead in drawers – carriers want to mine them

There's gold in them thar mobes. Also copper, silver and cobalt

The GSM Association (GSMA) and a dozen carriers have announced a plan to make a modest dent in the number of mobile phones that languish, unused, unloved, and unrecycled.

The consortium proclaimed on Tuesday that five billion mobile phones are "currently sitting unused and unloved in desk drawers around the globe" and asserted that their innards contain 50,000 tonnes of copper, 500 tonnes of silver and 100 tonnes of gold. There's also enough cobalt to build batteries for ten million electric vehicles.


Junk cellphones on Earth would stack higher than the International Space Station


The GSMA points out that having all those phones lying around is jolly wasteful, given that hauling new metals out of the ground and refining them is a messy and energy-intensive business.

A plan has therefore been hatched to do two things about it:

  • Increase take-back of mobile phones
    By 2030, the number of used mobile devices collected through operator take-back schemes amounts to at least 20 percent of the number of new mobile devices distributed directly to customers.
  • Boost recovery of mobiles and prevent devices going to landfill or incineration
    By 2030, 100 percent of used mobile devices collected through operator take-back schemes will be repaired, reused or transferred to controlled recycling organizations.

Which doesn't sound like it will make that big a dent in the mountain of unused phones. There's no mention of the first target being binding – or even measured. And of course a 20 percent target leaves plenty of dead devices out there.

The second goal also has outs – not least because transferring a device to a recycler is no guarantee it will be recycled.

Another issue is that none of the carriers the GSMA said have signed up for the scheme – BT Group, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad, KDDI, NOS, Orange, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel, Tele2 and Telefonica – represent colossal markets like China, India, Indonesia, or the USA.

The Register is also curious about the GSMA's "desk drawers" metric. Your correspondent's desk lacks a drawer and his dead mobes are scattered among a rather nice wicker picnic basket, a filing cabinet, and That Box Full Of Old Tech I Should Probably Have Thrown Out But Kept Just In Case.

Aside from those quibbles, hurrah – your next car could be an iPhone! ®

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like