Old mobile phones pose growing waste issue - report
NEW YORK - U.S. consumers will throw out more than 500 million mobile phones by 2005, creating a huge pile of waste containing dangerous pollutants, a report by an environmental research group said this week.
Inform, a non-profit group that campaigns for a cleaner environment, called on federal and state governments and industry to create more effective ways of recycling old phones - including financial rebates for consumers.
Cell phones have large amounts of highly polluting metals including lead solder used on the internal circuit board, and arsenic and cadmium. Another example is the flame retardants that create toxic dioxins when incinerated in garbage dumps.
Mobile phones, while far smaller than computers, are made from many of the same materials, and because of their size, are commonly tossed into the garbage, the report\'s author warned.
\"In the future, we will see a deluge of these small wireless devices, which also have toxic waste streams. There is a much greater likelihood that these are going to end up in landfills,\" report author Bette Fishbein, a senior researcher at Inform, said.
\"The proliferation of cellphones in recent years has not really hit the waste stream yet,\" said Fishbein, who noted that local waste management officials are still struggling to figure how to handle the explosion of computer-related trash.
The report, principally funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, estimates mobile phones will be discarded at a rate of 130 million per year by 2005, resulting in 65,000 tons of waste.
The move to new types of mobile phones that offer Internet access will create a stockpile of as much as 500 million phones over the next several years that will end up in landfills or garbage dumps unless recycling policies are put in place, it said, citing industry data.
By contrast, computers - especially the lead-lined cathode-ray display screens that contain some of the most polluting materials - are recycled more often by consumers and businesses because of their large size, the researcher noted.
DROWNING IN COMPUTER WASTE
\"Local waste managers are drowning in computer waste, with legislation being enacted to ban anything having to do with cathode ray tubes,\" she said, adding that policy has not kept pace with the growing use of mobile devices. States such as California, Massachusetts and Minnesota are considering such moves, although the federal government has yet to act.
But Travis Larson, a spokesman for trade group Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, disputed the assertion phonemakers had failed to recycle, saying that, \"The industry has already collected over a million used phones.\"
He pointed to a program whereby by Sprint PCS, the fourth largest U.S. mobile phone service, has begun collecting used phones at all of its retail outlets for resale or recycling.
The environmental group\'s report calls for actions by industry, government and individual consumers, including:
- Phone designers need to keep the full life-cycle of products in mind when creating new products, building them to be fully recyclable in the first place. By contrast, equipment makers in Japan and Europe, encouraged by regulations there, have made progress in eliminating lead from their products.
- Financial incentives should be created to encourage U.S. mobile phonemakers to see that a far larger percentage of phones are recycled, taking Xerox\'s highly profitable printer cartridge recycling program as a model. Fishbein estimated that only 20 percent of mobile phone batteries are recycled under current voluntary industry-sponsored guidelines, despite programs such as Verizon\'s \"New for Two\" trade-in program.
- Consumer electronics retailers should offer rebates to consumers who exchange old phones when purchasing new ones. Such \"take-back\" programs already have been mandated by the European Union.
- The U.S. industry should do more to back global standards efforts for phones. Current international standards put more emphasis on recyclable materials. Globally, plugs and phone chargers must also be standardized, ending the need for separate accessories for each device, another waste generator.
The report by Fishbein is entitled \"Waste in the Wireless World: The Challenge of Cell Phones\" and can be located on the Web at www.informinc.org
Story by Eric Auchard
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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