Tesco launches scheme to recycle mobile phones

Initiatives aim to reduce the pollution caused by millions of portable telephones and fridges that are thrown away each year
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The Independent Online

A plan to recycle up to a quarter of the four million mobile phones that are discarded in Britain each year will be announced today.

There are estimated to be about 40 million handheld mobile telephone sets in circulation. About four million are replaced every year, but few of those ­ probably no more than five per cent ­ are recycled. The rest are either kept in drawers, because people have only a vague sense that they are valuable even if they are no longer wanted, or simply thrown away.

Yet treating them as waste means that valuable metals including gold and palladium are lost, while potentially dangerous substances such as lead, cadmium, lithium and mercury may enter the environment.

Under the scheme, which will involve about 700 Tesco supermarkets, people will be asked to drop an unwanted mobile into an envelope at an in-store collection point.

In return, Tesco says it will pay £5 to one of three charities ­ the Alzheimer's Society, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust or the children's charity NCH. Alternatively, if the customer wishes, Tesco will pay £2.50 to a charity and award 250 points to the customer's Tesco clubcard. As a precaution against theft, no cash will be paid out and a maximum of five phones per customer will be allowed.

The recycling will be done by XS Tronix, a company specialising in recycling electronic goods, which will send the usable mobiles to developing countries, and completely strip down the others.

Tesco, which has UK sales of £18bn a year from its 13 million customers, says it will not make money from the exercise. "We're doing it as part of our strategy of corporate social responsibility," a spokeswoman for the company said. "We have researched our customers about their feelings on environmental issues and recycling was one they felt strongly about. They felt we should do more."

The company's target is to recycle between 500,000 and a million phones in the first year of the scheme, which it thinks will rate as the equivalent of raising between £1.25m and £2.5m for charity.

The move was welcomed by charities and environmental groups at the weekend.

Tony Manwaring, an NCH director, said: "By supporting this initiative, people will be helping to promote the future health of the environment for us all. In the UK, we throw away huge amounts of goods, normally into holes in the ground."

Ben Shaw, of the environmental policy group Green Alliance, said. "People want to change this, but they don't know how. Through encouraging people to recycle mobile phones, Tesco is helping people to play their part. But manufacturers and retailers also need to look at how products can be reused or remanufactured to minimise their impact on the environment."

Mobile telephone recycling schemes have been tried before in Britain, but have received little publicity and had little success. However, they may become much more common under a forthcoming European Union law that will cover the treatment of discarded electrical and electronic goods.

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