UN discusses electronics disposal

June 24, 2008 // 8:32 a.m.

Tags: #basel #basel-convention #electronics #environment #mobile #recycling #un

Most of us like to keep ourselves in touch on the go, and usually use the shiniest handset we can con our network providers into handing out – but do we ever thing about where the old handsets go when they die?

The United Nations is sufficiently concerned about the high device churn rate amongst gadget-obsessed mobile 'phone users to make it a headline issue for its five-day conference, the ninth meeting of the Conference to the Parties of the Basel Convention, to be held in Indonesia this week. Mobile 'phone site MobileCrunch quotes the agenda for the convention as raising the subject of “adopting new sets of guidelines for the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life mobile phones.

The statement issued by the Basel Convention members goes on to say that there are approximately three billion mobile 'phones in the world today, and “sooner or later these phones will be discarded, whole or in parts.

While many countries, including the UK, have companies that offer a 'recycling' policy in which old handsets are given a once-over, a new battery, and sent off to the developing world to begin life anew, this isn't always the panacea it appears to be. Although the development of a reasonable mobile infrastructure is cheap enough, the creation of a system for reclamation and safe disposal of electronics like mobile handsets isn't: all too often the handsets are simply picked clean of easily-accessible precious metals and dumped in landfills in which they leech out their heavy metals and hazardous chemicals. A win for the country of origin, sure – but not so much for the developing nation who accepted the 'phones.

With the Basel Convention having the might of the EU signatories behind it, it's possible that a solution dreamt up during the get-together in Indonesia could become international law. The only question: is five days long enough to solve a problem that's growing worse every year, with no end in sight?

How often do you replace your personal electronic gadgets – and what do you do with the old models? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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