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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
New life for old mobiles
New phones for old
Upgraded to a new phone recently? Chucked that old mobile in the back of a drawer? Could be that it's worth something to someone else.

Love your mobile? The feeling won't last. One day its sheen will start to fade, its buttons will start to stick and the ringing tone will turn wobbly. Then you'll cast it aside in favour of a brand new model.

You can't just throw old phones in the bin because of the environmental impact

Mark Harrison of Isis
But there's a growing demand for abandoned handsets. Oxfam has launched an appeal for old mobiles to raise money for charitable causes.

Each handset is worth between 2 and 20 to the charity. A Nokia 5110, for instance, pays for 24 school desks for children in Kenya.

Many of the abandoned mobiles are exported to African countries with poor landline infrastructure, says Mark Harrison of Isis Telecommunications, Oxfam's partner in the scheme.

"New mobiles can be very expensive, so these second-hand mobiles are much more affordable."

Ringing the changes

When a phone is donated, Isis staff wipe any stored numbers, remove and destroy the SIM card if the donor forgets to take it out, and refit and repair the handset if necessary.

old mobile
Not all phones can be reused
Those that are well and truly obsolete are stripped for parts and disposed of safely, to prevent the batteries leaking cadmium - a dangerous toxic substance - into the soil.

"You can't just throw old phones in the bin because of the environmental impact," Mr Harrison says.

Isis has been in the business of recycling old mobiles for three years, mostly for companies upgrading their handsets to newer models, Mr Harrison says.

A similar scheme is planned by the Scottish recycling company Eurosource, which will allow donors to pick a cause to receive the proceeds.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

About 4m replacement phones are sold every year in the UK, yet most - often just a year old - are discarded.

"Take my old computer, please!"
Although mobiles are not covered by an EU directive which requires manufacturers to collect and recycle their products, adding them to the list is under consideration.

The waste electrical and electronic equipment directive aims to cut the millions of tonnes of electrical junk - from televisions and fridges to computers and video recorders - that Europe produces each year.

Just as Oxfam's scheme finds new owners for old mobiles, other schemes collect old PCs to give to the digitally deprived.

Which just goes to show, what's junk to you may be a godsend to another.

For details of how to donate your mobile, see Internet links.

Your comments: accepts donated cell phones: "The national Donate a Phone campaign collects wireless phones to benefit victims of domestic violence. In the hands of a victim, these phones are a lifeline, enabling them to call for assistance when faced with an emergency situation."
Eric Plunk, United States

The EU should require manufacturers to supply prepaid return envelopes with all new phones, addressed to either the manufacturer or a charity.
Martin Miller, UK

Mobile manufacturers should try and make phones more upgradeable, they getting about as small as they can be without becoming too fiddly to use. Of course this isn't in their interests as they rely on the constant upgrade cycle to make money.
Giles Jones, UK

Perhaps we should be extracting the coltan from mobile phones and recycling that rather than mining it in already overexploited habitats in Central Africa. (Where the miners no doubt need mobile phones to contact the outside world).
Mark, UK

Wouldn't it be better to get the land line infrastructure up and running rather than giving a temporary solution of mobiles? Surely the mobile phone companies in Africa must be rubbing their hands together with glee! Perhaps if they were dished out free of charge, and advertising was played on all hold music, attached to text messages and on the covers, then that would help a little more?
Ben, UK

Mobile telephones aren't a temporary solution, landlines are temporary and mobile infrastructure is cheaper to install and run in countries with limited communications links.
Bill Ray, UK

If you've got any other ideas about what to do with old mobiles, send them to us using the form below. If you prefer to use your own e-mail program, send them to

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27 Jun 01 | Scotland
Phone recycling drive launched
29 Jan 01 | dot life
Paper waits to take over
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