UN Concerned about Mobile Phone Disposal

The UN is meeting in Indonesia this week for a five day conference on waste management. At the top of the list of things to be concerned about is the disposal of billions of gadgets and handsets that have inundated the world in the last ten years. Over 1,000 delegates from 170 countries are attending the Basel Convention which is being held on Bali, Indonesia.

MobileCrunch has been covering the issue of recycling mobile devices for close to a year now. (See: Recycle). High officials in the U.N. must be reading us because a statement from the Basel Convention said the delegates would “consider adopting new sets of guidelines for the environmentally sound management of used and end-of-life mobile phones.”

Well, maybe the U.N. heard about this growing problem from some other source. A polar bear afraid of drowning may have tipped off Al Gore. Whoever warned the U.N., they may have finally got one right. The statement continues: “The use of mobile phones has grown exponentially from the first few users in the 1970s to … more than three billion in April, 2008. Sooner or later these phones will be discarded, whole or in parts.”

Part of the problem arises when developed countries recycle their old mobile phones by refurbishing them and then selling the handsets to developing countries that are hungry for the technology. Many developing nations don’t have the infrastructure to deliver landline phone and Internet, and mobile technology is perfect for such situations. Cell towers are relatively cheap and can deliver a large stream of information in remote places. Unfortunately, many of the poorer nations don’t have the resources to properly dispose of cell phones. All handsets have some metals and chemicals that can be harmful to people and wildlife.

Then there are those countries that have a, “Not in my backyard,” policy. They dump their waste in countries that can’t or won’t develop safe measures of reclamation and disposal. The Basel Convention, which is an international treaty, attempts to regulate the international trade in hazardous waste and aims to minimize its generation and movement across borders.

Hopefully, the convention will be able to come up with some reasonable safeguards. But asking over 1,000 U.N. delegates to come up with something reasonable in five days is probably asking too much. It might be easier to teach polar bears to shave, so they don’t have to be out in the cold water when global warming melts even the ice in your refrigerator.

Basel Convention