Mobile industry rejects recycling time bomb claims

Mobile phone recycling has failed with mountains of toxic devices still waiting to be dumped, the director of the Total Environment Center (TEC), Jeff Angel, said on Monday.

Referring to two recent reports by the mobile phone industry to the New South Wales government in Australia, Angel said the research proves the industry’s “Mobile Muster” scheme is seriously flawed.

He said the industry update on the program, completed in June 2007 and November 2006, has achieved a paltry three percent recycling recovery rate.

“In the meantime, a mountain of toxic mobiles are waiting to be dumped,” Angel said.

“After seven years in the game, all the industry can claim is a pathetic three percent recycling rate, despite collecting a levy on every new phone sold. Mobile Muster is all spin and no substance.”

Angel said the reports, which were compiled by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), show very few mobiles are actually being recycled.

He said although the AMTA likes to selectively play with figures, it cannot hide such a hopeless program. “They also claim that most people don’t dump their phones, preferring to keep them. But this is a temporary situation,” Angel said. “Once the phone is technologically redundant, nobody is going to keep it.”

A survey undertaken by TEC shows the scheme has fewer than 20 percent of phone retailers participating in the scheme and only eight percent of stores have a visible recycling bin.

“Voluntary measures alone are proving insufficient. The toxic time bomb is ticking,” Angel said.

“It’s time environment ministers imposed a regulated Extended Producer Responsibility scheme with clear targets, and make industry responsible and accountable for the waste it creates.

“A refundable deposit or a prepaid return envelope with the phones would be a great incentive to get those phones out of cupboards and bins and recycled. There are successful examples from overseas.”

Angel said the AMTA claims recycling has increased from 19 percent to 30 per cent.

“But what counts is how many mobiles sold are recycled and that’s only three percent,” he said.

However, AMTA recycling manager, Rose Read, has strongly rejected the TEC’s claims, labelling them as extraordinary and said the attack is misdirected and misleading.

“It is misleading in the extreme for the TEC to claim that millions of mobile phones are making their way to landfills across Australia,” she said. “That is wrong. The most recent research completed by reputable, independent experts IPSOS has found that 82 percent of mobile phone owners choose to keep their old mobile phones or give them away to a family member or friend.

“These handsets are not thrown into landfill. The TEC wants people to believe that mobile phones are just like soft drink cans, plastic bags or newspapers – once used are thrown away.

“Research shows that consumers regard their mobile phones as having lasting value and use, with most people deciding to keep their old ones as a backup or spare in their bottom drawer or cupboard. When it is in the drawer it’s not harming the environment.”

Read said recent figures showed that only four percent of people reported they had thrown their previous mobile phone in the rubbish bin. This is less than half the figure since MobileMuster was relaunched in 2005.

Last month the mobile telecommunications industry partnered with Landcare Australia in an environmental incentive campaign dubbed ‘Old Phones, New Trees” where a tree will be planted for every handset recycled .

MobileMuster is free to consumers as it is funded by 16 handset manufacturers and network carriers in Australia.

There are 1900 drop-off points in the MobileMusters collection network including all the major mobile phone retailers such as Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, 3 Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Crazy Johns, FoneZone and Allphones.

This is in addition to 160 local councils and participating Sydney Credit Union and ANZ Bank branches.

“One must ask why the TEC is attacking an industry that has clearly demonstrated its commitment to product stewardship by committing nearly A$10 million (US$85 million) to the MobileMuster program and collecting more than 2.7 million batteries and handsets,” Read said.

She said the TEC’s call for a $10 refundable deposit scheme for mobile phones will have a limited impact on recycling rates and increase costs for consumers.

Read said it also increases the risk of mobile phones being stolen by providing an incentive for thieves.

“Our approach is far more cost effective and efficient than a deposit system for consumers,” Read said.

She said the MobileMuster program is accountable and transparent and the recycling process is regularly audited by KPMG. It has set targets to boost collections by 200 percent and halve what goes into landfill within three years.

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