Around 5.3 billion mobile phones will become e-waste this year

In short: Mobile phones are ubiquitous in most parts of the industrial world with some 16 billion devices owned worldwide. Of that number, nearly a third are set to be taken out of service this year, raising concerns in recycling circles.

Experts expect around 5.3 billion mobile phones to be retired in 2022. Stacked flat on top of each other (assuming each device is around 9mm thick), phones put discarded would be 120 times taller than the International Space Station and reach 1/8th of the way to the Moon.

Although they contain precious materials like gold, silver, copper and palladium, experts believe that most old handsets will end up in drawers or cupboards. Those that aren’t hoarded will likely find their way to trash cans and end up in landfills or incinerators.

Interestingly, mobile phones rank fourth among small electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) that are most often accumulated by consumers.

According to surveys conducted between June and September 2022 among 8,775 European households in six countries, the average household has 74 electronic products, including technological gadgets such as phones and tablets, as well as appliances such as toasters and hair dryers. On average, 13 are considered hoarded (nine are owned but not used and four are broken).

The top five small EEE products hoarded in Europe include:

  • Small consumer electronics and accessories (e.g. headphones, remote controls)
  • Small household equipment (e.g. clocks, irons,)
  • Small computer equipment (eg external hard drives, routers, keyboards, mice)
  • Cell phones and smartphones
  • Small food preparation equipment (e.g. toasters, food processors, grills)

The majority of respondents (46%) said they clung to the devices because they thought they might use them again in the future. Others (15%) said they aimed to sell hoarded items or give them away, while 13% said the items had sentimental value or might be worth something in the future (9%). Seven percent of respondents said they didn’t know how to dispose of an old item.

Image credit: Eirik Solheim