In brief: Mobile phones are ubiquitous in most parts of the industrial world with some 16 billion devices possessed worldwide. Of then, nearly a third are expected to be decommissioned this year and that has some in recycling circles voicing concerns.

Experts expect roughly 5.3 billion mobile phones to drop out of service in 2022. Stacked flat atop each other (assuming each device is around 9mm thick), the discarded phones would stand 120 times higher than the International Space Station and reach 1/8th of the way to the Moon.

Despite containing valuable material like gold, silver, copper and palladium, experts believe most of the retired handsets will end up in junk drawers or closets. Those that aren't hoarded will probably find their way to trash bins and wind up in landfills or incinerators.

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

According to surveys conducted between June and September 2022 of 8,775 European households across six countries, the average household has 74 e-products including tech gadgets like phones and tablets as well as appliances such as toaster and hair dryers. On average, 13 are considered hoarded (nine are owned but not used, and four are broken).

The top five hoarded small EEE products in Europe include:

  • Small consumer electronics and accessories (e.g. headphones, remote controls)
  • Small household equipment (e.g. clocks, irons,)
  • Small information technology equipment (e.g. external hard drives, routers, keyboards, mice)
  • Mobile and smartphones
  • Small equipment for food preparation (e.g. toasters, food processing, grills)

The majority of survey takers (46 percent) said they hang on to devices because they believe they might use them again in the future. Others (15 percent) said they aim to sell hoarded items or give them away, while 13 percent reported the items have sentimental value or might be worth something in the future (nine percent). Seven percent of respondents said they don't know how to dispose of old item.

Image credit: Eirik Solheim