We live in an age of disposability. Americans throw away 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups a year and Britons throw away enough rubbish every hour to fill the Royal Albert Hall. But it's not just food scraps and packaging that we throw away, recently attention has turned to electronics and the icon of the modern age: the mobile phone. Every year, 15 million phones in the UK are replaced for newer models. Although some phones are passed on to friends, and under some schemes are sent to developing countries for use in areas with no landline infrastructure, many are simply thrown away. The consequences are not only wasteful but potentially dangerous, and as a result, scientists are coming up with new ways to recycle mobiles and ingenious materials for making the next generation.
Although phones seem to be made from harmless plastic, they have many nasty chemicals hidden inside them. Their plastic covers contain flame retardant additives that can give rise to toxic dioxins if incinerated, the cadmium in nickel-cadmium batteries is known to be toxic and carcinogenic and there are other toxic metals in the circuit board. When consigned to a landfill, phones could remain there for hundreds of years leaching their toxic chemicals into the soil and potentially into water supplies. Recycling phones means that toxic substances can be removed and precious metals such as gold and silver can be recovered and used again in other products.