Czechs believed to be holding on to huge number of unused mobile phones

New mobile phones will no doubt be turning up in many people’s stockings this Christmas. But what becomes of old mobile phones, once people acquire a snazzy new model? One agency in the Czech Republic says Czechs have five to eight million old mobiles gathering dust at home – devices they hold on to for sentimental reasons when they really ought to be recycled.

Czechs are mobile phone mad. In fact, the Czech Republic, with a population of around 10 million, has over 12 million active mobile numbers. Some people have more than one mobile on the go, but many more possess old models which they never use. That’s something which concerns David Benes, director of REMA System, a non-profit organisation which collects and recycles electronic equipment. They’ve made some rather striking calculations.

“The Czech Republic achieved over 100 percent mobile penetration in 2006 and last year 1.3 million mobiles went out of use. We calculated that in the time since mobiles entered the Czech market between five and eight million devices have gone out of use. A small number have been collected, but that number of phones is on the Czech market.”

REMA System have worked out that the millions of old mobiles out there would produce a significant amount of metals if recycled: 120 kg of gold and 45 tonnes of copper. And their batteries could produce 19 tonnes of cobalt. Which is not to be sniffed at.

Of course the obvious question is: why are Czechs holding on to old handsets which they are extremely unlikely to ever use again?

“I think Czechs have so many phones at home because they are small and expensive devices. We pay thousands of crowns for them and then when their life comes to an end after two years we feel really bad about throwing them out. Our attitude is that people have to get over the price and accept that their old mobiles are of no use to them.”

I myself must admit to having two beaten up old mobiles gathering dust in a drawer at home – but David Benes tells me getting rid of them would be exceedingly simple.

“Those mobiles can be returned as part of a collection scheme. Most sellers offer to take your mobile off your hands if you buy a new one, and most operators offer bonuses for the return of old handsets.”