Vodafone, one of the world's largest mobile network operators, has been running recycling initiatives since 2002 to reduce the impacts of its products on the environment. By encouraging users to re-use or recycle their old phones; valuable materials and metals, such as silver, can be re-used. This forms part of Voadfone's commitment to Corporate Responsibility, which is being aware of the issues facing a business and acting responsibly in all areas of its activity.
According to the Belgian company Umicore, the world's largest processor of electronic waste, up to 600kg (21,000oz)) of gold and silver are being thrown away in Britain every year because mobile phone users are not recycling their handsets. A kilogram of gold and a kilogram of silver can be extracted from every 50,000 handsets. Britain's 45 million mobile phone users discard about 15 million handsets a year. That amounts to about 300 kg of gold, worth more than £6.25 million, and a similar quantity of silver. However, of these discarded handsets, only about 2% are recycled, with the remainder going to landfill dumps or hidden away in drawers in homes and offices (The Times, 7 March 2009).
Recycling various parts of the mobile phones means an overall reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, as well as saving precious metals. Gold is used on circuitry tracking in mobile phones and their silicon chips are impregnated with it to prevent corrosion. Silver is used in the soldering. Handsets also contain tiny quantities of other precious metals, including platinum, palladium and hafnium. Lithium and nickel can also be retrieved from phone batteries, while the plastics can also be used again.
Companies like Vodafone have already taken the initiative to set up recycling campaigns, however, soaring gold prices and a new European Union directive forcing phone manufacturers to help to dispose of their electronic waste is helping to increase recycling rates.