Green group trashes Mobile Muster recycling program

By Matthew Henry

SYDNEY: The Total Environment Centre (TEC) has launched a scathing attack on the Mobile Muster mobile phone recycling scheme, branding its retail participation ‘extremely poor’ and calling the scheme ‘seriously flawed’.

Australian consumers are buying eight million mobile phones per year, with each unit containing toxic heavy metals posing a risk to living organisms and groundwater systems if left in the landfill.

But according to the TEC, the rate of recycling is still a ‘paltry three per cent’, despite the introduction of the scheme in 1999 to give consumers greater access to mobile phone recycling by placing bins at retail shopfronts.

“After seven years in the game, all the industry can claim is a pathetic three per cent recycling rate, despite collecting a levy on every new phone sold. Mobile Muster is all spin and no substance,” said Total Environment Centre director, Jeff Angel.

To date, over 30 million mobile phones have been sold to Australian consumers, but the Angel argues that consumers have not been given incentive to recycle their old handsets.

“The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association in two reports to the NSW Government shows only a few per cent of the mobiles sold have been recycled. AMTA likes to selectively play with figures but they can’t hide their hopeless program.”

Angel blames poor retail coverage for the low recycling rate, with a survey conducted by the TEC revealing just 20 per cent of the 150 mobile phone retailers in the City of Sydney area are participating in the scheme.

The survey also uncovered inconsistent presentation at retail shopfronts, with only 38 per cent of stores placing the recycling bin at a visible location in the store and only 29 per cent of stores using promotional material.

Mobile Muster is administered by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), which has hit back at the TEC’s criticisms, claiming its attack is ‘misdirected and misleading’.

“It is misleading in the extreme for the TEC to claim that millions of mobile phones are making their way to landfills across Australia,” said AMTA recycling manager, Rose Read.

According to Read, the most recent research completed by IPSOS found that 82 per cent of mobile phone owners choose to keep their old mobile phones or give them away to a family member or friend.|

“Research shows that consumers view their mobile phones as having lasting value and use, with most people deciding to keep their old ones as a backup or spare in their bottom drawer or cupboard. When it is in the drawer it’s not harming the environment,” said Read.

However, the TEC said while this is likely the case, consumers will eventually discard their phones with potentially dangerous consequences for the environment and community health.

 “This is a temporary solution. Once the phone is technologically redundant, neither the original owner nor the person they may have passed the phone onto is going to keep it,” said Angel.

Mobile Muster says it has seen awareness of mobile phone recycling increase from 46 per cent in 2005 to 79 per cent in June 2007, and has also seen a rise in the number of discarded phones being recycled from 19 per cent to 30 per cent.

Mobile Muster has around 1900 dropoff points nationwide at retailers including Telstra Shop, Optus, Vodafone, 3 Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Crazy Johns, FoneZone, Allphones as well as 160 local councils and participating Sydney Credit Union and AANZ branches.

“It is very disappointing that the TEC criticizes Mobile Muster when it is the only industry-wide program for electronic waster offering free recycling for all mobile phone brands in Australia,” said Read.

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