UK homes are hoarding up to 40 million unused electronic gadgets, including mobile phones and tablets, a new study estimates.
Not only is this surplus cluttering your cupboards, it also means valuable “rare earth elements”, which are increasingly endangered, are sitting idle. This could threaten the ability to manufacture new devices.
Natural sources of six of the elements found in smartphones are set to run out within the next 100 years.
The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) carried out the survey of more than 2,000 people to find out just how much unused technology is being stockpiled in households. It revealed half of UK homes had at least one unused electronic device and 45% of households had up to five.
Most people said they had no plans to recycle their devices – but more than half said knowing about the endangered elements would make them more likely to recycle.
“Most people said they had no plans to recycle their devices.”
What are the endangered elements?
There are three types of elements that are of concern. The first are those known as ‘conflict elements’ which are mined in areas where battles and child labour are often a routine part of their mining. These include gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum.
The second type are toxic elements, such as arsenic. And the third type of elements are the rare ones, such as indium, which is vital for touch screens because it conducts electricity and is transparent.
Robert Parker, the RSC’s chief executive, said the UK has an opportunity to become a world leader in recycling these devices, and for other nations to follow suit.
He said: “We need action now – from governments, manufacturers and retailers – to make reuse and recycling much easier, and we must enable a new generation of chemistry talent to help.
“Chemical scientists are already working to find ground-breaking solutions – by investigating long-term substitutes for rare elements in devices, or by finding new chemical methods to extract precious materials and reuse them – but we all can and must do more.
“As individuals, reuse and recycling are the best options available to us, but even if recycled it is still extremely difficult to recover some of these elements from unused devices.”