Cell Phones Are Recycled Differently From Other Electronics

When it comes to the recycling process of our electronic waste, not all electronics are processed in exactly the same way. CRT televisions and monitors are processed differently from LCD televisions and monitors. Computers, printers and other small electronics are processed in a different way than cellular phones. So how and why are cellular phones processed differently than other small consumer electronics when it comes to recycling e-waste?

Every year, millions of mobile phones are thrown out for newer, more improved, updated versions. The average American only keeps their current model cell phone for about 24 months before replacing it with an upgrade. This is adding more fuel to the already rapidly growing electronic waste fire. Recycling our cellular phones helps to prevent more of them from ending up in landfills, where the materials contained in them can contaminate our water and soil and pollute our air.

The Mobile Phone Recycling Process

The reason why cellular phones are recycled differently than other electronic devices is because of their unique design. Nearly 100% of the materials in a mobile phone are recyclable, which is more than most other electronics. The cell phone recycling process can be broken down into 6 basic steps.

  • Sorting and dismantling
  • Batteries sorting
  • Circuit board processing
  • Casings shredding
  • Accessories and mixed plastics processing
  • Packaging

This process completely breaks down the chemical compounds which prevent these potentially harmful chemical compounds, like furans and dioxins, from reforming and becoming a threat to our environment. This process has also been referred to as “above-ground mining.”

The Steps of the Cell Phone Recycling Process

In the first part of the mobile phone recycling process, the cell phones are properly dismantled. Then, they’re sorted into these components:

  • Batteries- (Lithium Ion, NiCad, NiMetHyd)
  • Chargers and/or other accessories
  • Circuit boards
  • Handsets
  • Metals
  • Paper/cardboard packaging
  • Plastics

In the 2nd step of the process, the batteries are then sorted according to their individual chemical types. All of the nickel metal hydride (NiMetHyd) and lithium ion batteries are processed for lithium, nickel and cobalt. The nickel cadmium (NiCad) batteries are processed for cadmium for making new batteries, nickel for making stainless steel, and copper

In the 3rd step of the process, the circuit boards are processed for their precious metals. These include copper, silver, gold and lead.

In the 4th step of the process, the handset casings made from pure plastic are shredded and used in the production of composite plastic fence posts or plastic wood planks that are used in garden beds and other garden furniture

In the 5th step of the process, both the mixed plastics and the accessories are shredded. Then, the plastics are carefully separated from the metals that are ferrous and non-ferrous to be reused. Those plastics are then used for making shipping pallets, and the metals are sold to manufacturers.

In the 6th and final step of the mobile phone recycling process, the packaging is properly separated into paper and plastic. It is then sent to the local recycling centers to be processed.

We should all take care to remember that this “after-life” of our old mobile phones is an important part of reducing the amount of e-waste on our planet.


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