Return and Recycling of Used Mobile Phones : Research and Communication Project for the Return and Use of Old Mobile Phones as a Starting Point for Sustainable Consumer Behaviour in the Context of the BMBF-Science Year 2012 "Project EARTH: Our Future"

Rohstoff-Expedition Logo
  • Project no.3438
  • Duration 11/2011 - 03/2013

The global use of mobile phones has increased rapidly over the last years up to nearly 6 billion mobile phone contracts in 2011. Especially young people show a strong demand for mobiles; in Germany, nine out of ten teenagers own a mobile phone. The increasing demand for mobile phones leads to a continuously growing resource and energy consumption, intensifying the challenge of supplying (already scarce) metals to the industry. This problem is even more tightened by the very low recycling rates of mobile phones, which in turn are of significant economic and environmental importance.

In Germany, approximately 83 million mobile phones are stored in private households without being used any more. Taking into account the relatively low participation of mobile phone users in recycling programmes, research in this area can have a high political, economic and social importance.

Therefore, this research projects aims at increasing the understanding of consumer behaviour in the context of sustainability focussing on individual recycling behaviour. Furthermore, economic potentials are investigated that could result from a regulated return of mobile phones.

Based on this, recommendations to market participants will be developed. Additionally, a comprehensive communication campaign for mobile phone recycling will be prepared and supervised, extending the scope of previous approaches. The campaign aims at informing individuals about the resource intensity of mobile phones and preventing them from disposing of their old phones in household waste. In the long run, the campaign tries to encourage consumers to act more sustainably when using not only their mobile phones but also other electronic devices in their daily life. The target groups of the campaign are children and (young) adolescents.

Core research questions are:

  • What are the possibilities and potentials for a regular mobile phone return and recycling programme?
  • What can a more sustainable value chain of mobile phones look like and to what extend will scarce resources promote a (sustainable) transition in the future?
  • How can current consumer behaviour be characterized?
  • What are the main barriers for a regulated return of mobile phones, preventing previous recycling campaigns from being successful?
  • Are programmes for return and recycling of mobile phones a sustainable option in general?

Planned outcomes of the project are:

  • Preparation of fact sheets and teaching materials explaining the life cycle and recycling of mobile phones as input for the communication campaign (in cooperation with the Leuphana University of Lüneburg and the design agency familie redlich)
  • Study of consumer behaviour in the context of sustainability
  • Documentation and analysis of surveys for mobile phone recycling in schools
  • Documentation of dialogues and forum for discussion with relevant stakeholders (young adolescents, families, mobile phone service provider, recyclers, NGOs, etc.)