WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) needs to be recycled. It is possible to repair and re-use some of it. Kent County Council has just started a scheme to collect such items from your address. The items include old mobile phones, computers, laptops, and printers.
The service used to be unreliable, as I discovered when I tried to get the bin-team to collect my old printer last year. Having rung up in advance about this, I was told to leave it on top of the bin. But they did not take it on the first visit, saying their lorry were full up in that compartment. However, after I fussed and rescheduled, they did take it on the next visit. There was no reassurance that it actually went for “recycling”.
a newer, greener system
Now the system that is proudly proclaimed on the KCC website appears to be full of better “green” guarantees. They are aiming first at shifting reusable gadgets to those who can use them, like struggling small charities, or hard-up families with school-children.
They pledge to wipe all data first.
“We use a specialist process to ensure 100% data-wiping, to the strictest UK legislative standards, with data erasure certification provided back to the business or organisation.”
This is important as criminals could get access to personal data, especially financial details from smart phones or computers, and steal from bank accounts, or use blackmail.
Tackling digital poverty
Then they will “remanufacture” some devices for use with needy customers. This is all part of a project to improve digital connectivity in the County and to connect those who are digitally excluded. The fact that some school children could not see their lessons during the pandemic because of digital poverty has led to greater awareness of the need for connectivity of every family. But although this project is currently a funded project of KCC, there is a sharp warning that it is “time-limited”. So apply now if you need, or could qualify for, one of these free remanufactured devices.
Precious metals and rare earths
However, I wonder if they are also aiming to make money from this eventually. The value of the precious metals in cell phones is a hot topic about WEEE.
“One metric ton of iPhones contains 300 times more gold than a tonne of gold ore and 6.5 times more silver than a tonne of silver ore.”
And that is just the precious metals. So called “rare earth” minerals are even more:
“These include yttrium, lanthanum, terbium, neodymium, gadolinium and praseodymium.”
The problem is that as more and more people expect to own phones (younger and younger children even!) all these metals are needed for more than 2bn phones. Currently only about 10% are being correctly recycled. Many are just lurking in desk drawers. Some are even – dangerously – just chucked into public litter bins or into the rubbish to be collected.
‘Mony a pickle maks a mickle’ (or ‘every little helps’)
So should you be getting some rebate for the value of all these metals if you offer your old phone for recycling? Unfortunately, although your old phone contains all these valuable metals, the amount in each one is minuscule. It only becomes worthwhile when you can process them in millions.
So is this what KCC is trying to do? If enough of us hand in our old phones, they could make some money from the process. Perhaps even help to fund those bus routes which have just been axed? Or libraries which have been closed?
They are certainly trying to make it easy for us to hand them in: there is even a free collection from your address. Much better than the old system of balancing them at dawn on your bin top.