UK mobile phone recycling scheme expands

Network providers join manufacturers to achieve big boost in phone take-back, lower costs

An industry-led scheme to collect and recycle used mobile phones in the UK is to be formally launched next week, after all four national cellular operators agreed to join six manufacturers after 18 months of testing.

The development shows that voluntary take-back programmes can be as effective as legislation, including the draft EU directive on electrical and electronic waste, according to Ectel, the European telecommunications and professional electronics industry association that developed the scheme. Discussions have now started about extending it to Spain and Italy later this year.

With the operators on board, the British scheme will try to replicate the success of a parallel initiative in Sweden (ENDS Daily 28 November 1997). First piloted in 1997, this has become a "fully fledged national operation" recycling 35,000 mobile telephones annually. Both national network operators are now taking part, and earlier this year the Swedish government took over responsibility for its administration from Ectel, through the national trade board.

"A successful scheme needs the support of the entire industry - rather than just manufacturers - plus multiple outlets. This is the breakthrough we just achieved in Britain," an Ectel spokesperson told ENDS Daily. Vodaphone, BT Cellnet, One to One and Orange will all participate from 12 May, when the number of used phone collection points will increase from 80 to over 400 and postal return services will be introduced.

The scheme will attempt to achieve a "very substantial increase" on the 5,000 phones per year currently recycled in the UK. The country has 14m mobile phone users, many of whom upgrade their model up to once a year.

"In addition to environmental gains, our cost-effectiveness is particularly important for industry," the Ectel spokesperson added. The Swedish scheme costs less than any government scheme in Europe, he claimed, at under $1 (euros 0.95) per phone. In Switzerland, a government levy of $3 applies to all sales of mobile phones, to pay for recycling, the spokesperson said.

British costs are already "closer to the Swedish than the Swiss," Ectel says. Its long-term goal is for the value of recycled materials to outweigh the cost of collecting and processing used phones. "Increasing the volume is crucial," the spokesperson said. "The Swedish experiences shows that when recyclers can establish stable inflows of used goods, they are in a better position to charge more for the materials they extract."

The manufacturers in the scheme are Alcatel of France, Ericsson of Sweden, Motorola of the USA, Nokia of Finland, Panasonic of Japan and Phillips of the Netherlands. Ectel hopes that other manufacturers will participate in future.

Follow Up:
Ectel, tel: +44 1753 500 074.

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