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Export, metal recovery and the mobile phone end-of-life ecosystem:

  • Bollinger, L.A.
  • Blass, V.
Publication Date
Jun 18, 2012
TU Delft Repository
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Against a background of rapidly growing mobile phone consumption in developing and emerging economies, falling use times and looming metal scarcity, finding better ways to deal with end-of-life (EoL) phones is imperative. The current dynamic in which large numbers of EoL phones are exported from industrialized to developing and emerging economies results in the loss of significant amounts of scarce and valuable metals. The purpose of this paper is to shed some light on the dynamic of EoL mobile phone flows from industrialized to developing economies – what drives it, how does it hinder metal recovery and how can this be changed? The first part of the paper provides an overview of the various components of this dynamic - collection processes in industrialized countries, export flows, and refurbishing and metal recovery operations in developing and emerging economies. The second part of the paper extracts insights from the results of three simulation models - one system dynamics model and two agent-based models - dealing with various aspects of this dynamic. The first model, with a global scope, indicates towards the potential relevance of reuse in developing and emerging economies in facilitating EoL phone collection in the industrialized world. The second model, also taking a global scope, indicates that high levels of reuse in the developing world alone are unlikely to create a situation that is both environmentally and economically sustainable, and emphasizes the need to improve recyling infrudtructure and metal recovery processes. The third model adopts a more local scope, focusing on the informal e-waste sector in Bangalore, India. Preliminary results from this model highlight some factors that can play a role in supporting the development of partnerships between small-scale recyclers and professional end refiners for the purpose of improving metal recovery.

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