More than 20 million phones are collected each year for reuse or recycling—those that cannot be repaired compose less than 0.003% of the total annual weight of the waste electronic equipment
The ideal, from an environmental perspective, is to design a mobile phone with reuse, recycling and minimal disposal in mind. This starts with reducing energy input to manufacture of components, substituting less hazardous substances (for example, the use of lead-free solder), and minimising mixing of materials, such as metals embedded in plastics, which could be difficult to separate during recycling. The GSMA has contributed to the development of international guidelines as part of the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative.
There has been concern about the potential use in mobile phones of tantalum derived from coltan mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The topic remains complicated, mainly because of continuing violence and civil unrest. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), of which GSMA is a member, supported research on the issue by Fauna and Flora International, which recommended that key stakeholders work towards a regulated coltan mining industry in the DRC. GeSI in partnership with the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition are supporting tracing of minerals from the mine to the smelter by supporting development of a ‘bag and tag’ program and validating conflict-free smelters.