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Waste not, want not: time to recycle your unwanted gadgets

By Paul Brislen, Contributor. 14 October 2021, 2:47 pm
Waste not, want not: time to recycle your unwanted gadgets

It's something of a truism to say everyone has a mobile phone these days.

The Commerce Commission's annual report suggests it's much more than "everyone" with 122 active connections for every 100 people in New Zealand.

That figure is only set to rise as more devices come onstream that don't actually need to be attached to a human being. Cars, fridges, air conditioners, security systems, you name it - if it's got a PowerPoint and software it will become connected to our ever-increasing Internet of Things (IoT) in the next few years.  

All of which means we're facing a bit of a problem - what to do with all those devices when they're no longer fit for purpose. 

In my house, the trickle-down theory is put into practice. Whenever a new device enters at the top of the pecking order (hopefully but rarely me) the older devices are passed on down the chain to the next most worthy recipient.  

This extends the life of smartphones, laptops and yes even earbuds quite significantly as they're no longer just parked on a shelf at the end of their first tour of duty. Instead, they're repurposed for as long as their dear batteries will hold a charge (or their screens remain intact). 

But eventually, they will be consigned to that drawer in my office where all such devices go to die. And because new smartphones are relatively small, I have discovered half a dozen old phones in there that all need to be recycled sooner rather than later. 

Smartphones (and tablets and laptops and all the rest) are full of rare earth minerals that really do need to be recycled. Dumped in a landfill they'll soon start to cause even more problems for our beleaguered environment. They leach into the soils, are toxic enough to cause elephants to develop "floppy trunk syndrome" when they drink water that contains these toxins, and quite frankly aren't all that friendly to the rest of us. 

But recycling is easy and can deliver great results.   

The telco sector is well aware of the need to recycle and we have developed the RE:MOBILE programme, to take old phones and give them new life. It's a free service and we'll take phones whether they work or not. For those that can be turned on, RE:MOBILE will look at refurbishment and extend the life of the phone even further. For those that don't work, RE:MOBILE will safely dispose of the battery and re-purpose the rare earth minerals inside. 

It's amazing what we can re-use these materials for. The Tokyo 2020 Medal Project gathered together 32kg of gold from more than 70 tonnes of e-waste which was put to good use making the gold medals for the Olympic games. More than six million phones were collected during the project - I reckon we've probably got that many or even more sitting in cupboards around the country. 

Each year New Zealand produces around 80,000 tonnes of e-waste, and that's not something we can ignore.   

But if you're having a spring clean, or just want to give the kids something to do, gather all of your unwanted mobile phones, wipe the data from them and then you can drop them off at one of RE:MOBILE's 400-plus locations. And if you're unable to get out and about, as many of us are, we also have a freepost service available as well. 

And remember, next time you see an Olympic champion don't forget to shout "What a load of rubbish" but do make sure they're wearing their medal first, or you'll have a lot of explaining to do. 

Paul Brislen is CEO of the Telecommunications Carriers Forum 

14 October is International E-Waste Day 


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