Spyro Kalos, the manager of MobileMuster understands the practical application of product stewardship and how to make it work on a national basis. He also recognises that the barriers to recycling are an ongoing challenge in need of focused community outreach and innovation. Read more …


Australians have always loved their technology, in all its forms, and have always been early adopters.

The first mobile phone call in Australia was made almost 40 years ago in August of 1981, with the first mobile available in Australia being a car phone.  It weighed in at 14kgs, cost $5,000 and was half a metre long.  Thankfully mobiles have come a long way since then.  I am sure there are a couple of these still lurking in someone’s bottom draw or garage.

Technology does have a place in our busy lives, mobile phones have increased productivity in the work place and have also helped us stayed better connected with our community.  We do more and more on them than ever before.  The early days were simply about making a call or sending a text message.

Today on smartphones we do our banking, emails, take pictures, store books and more.  The changes in technology has also seen the convergence of technology with the mobile replacing the need to have a camera, e-reader, and music player.

As technology evolves, the old stuff becomes obsolete.  The introduction of 5G is believed to see more connected devices than ever before.

However, technological advances have also created a global problem in the way of electronic waste.  The challenge of what to do with all those used laptops, tablets, computers, screen monitors, power tools, and other devices once they break down, become obsolete, or get replaced by improved versions is real for many consumers.  It is estimated that in Australia e-waste is growing 3 times faster than any other waste stream.

For many of us knowing what to do with old technology can be challenging, and the solution for Australians seems to be that we just store it in our home, or simply send it to landfill.  Either option is not a solution.  There are valuable resources in these products that can be recovered and returned to the supply chain and go into making new products.  A win for the planet where it lessens the need to continually mine.  Recycling captures valuable metals such as copper, silver, gold, and others, along with plastics and glass that can be used in the next wave of technology.

Industry has a leading role to play in implementing product stewardship frameworks in managing products that become obsolete.  In Australia there a number of schemes that are in place that provide a free take back program for unwanted devices, such as the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) and of course MobileMuster.

Since MobileMuster started in 1998 over 1,400 tonnes of mobiles and their accessories have been collected and recycled.  Mobile phones are highly recyclable, our processes see 99% of the material being recovered and reused.  The program has been a part of the circular economy for a long time.

Mobiles are highly valued from a recycling perspective.  There are strong markets for the commodities recovered from them, especially the metals.  Once the materials are recovered the majority end in markets where the products are manufactured.

So if electronics are highly recyclable then why are many of us storing them at home?  There are two key factors that need to be addressed here.  A solid collection network to make recycling easy and accessible, along with raising consumer awareness.

MobileMuster’s success as a voluntary scheme is built on its solid collection network developed over 21 years.  The network consists of over 3,500 public drop off sites around the country and  is also supported with a free post back option.  In 2017/2018 the program collected 90 tonnes of mobiles and accessories, including over 1 million handsets and batteries.  However, we still know that there are millions still stored in our homes.

Product stewardship is about extended producer responsibility, the telecommunications industry that funds MobileMuster have developed a unique program that brings together the manufacturers and the network providers to deliver a robust take back program.  However, for any scheme to work everyone needs to play their part, including consumers.

Independent research conducted by MobileMuster highlighted two reasons why mobiles are stored.  The first being the “just in case” syndrome, just in case I need to go back to using it.   Fortunately, mobiles are more robust these days, the changes in design and material, plus technology advances means that we never go back to using the old ones, then they simply multiply.  Talk to most people and they will tell you that they have at least two old ones at home that they no longer use.  They can’t even be given away.

In recent times there has been a shift in the length of time mobiles are being used to 24 to 32 months, which can be tied back to materials used in design, purchase price and technology advances.  Design changes over the last number of years sees more metals and less plastic being used in the manufacturing process, making devices more robust.  The cost of devices, especially in the premium space, means consumers are paying over $1,000 in many cases for these products.  Finally, you can now update the software to the latest operating system with needing to update the hardware.

The growing advances in technology also sees increasing consumer concerns in data management, certainly not unique to mobiles.  I expect this to grow as more devices become connected to the internet beyond just mobiles and computers.

MobileMuster is committed to growing awareness in mobile recycling by educating consumers on how, why and where to recycle, plus the program has a role to play in also educating them on how to manage their data.  Reuse is a critical part of the circular economy.  It’s about giving consumers the right tools and resources so that they can sell, pass them on and eventually recycle them when they are no longer working or needed.

Today there is a wealth of information on the web that can guide you through the process and it can be overwhelming, but at MobileMuster we have made it easier to find these resources in the one place.  Just like there is a need to build trust in the recycling process, consumers need to feel confident in the process of managing their data.

This year the program has developed number of resources to help mobile phone users, including how to videos, tips and links to manufacturer’s websites, which can all be found on the MobileMuster website.

The mobile telecommunications industry in Australia has invested almost $50 million dollars in MobileMuster and is committed to raising awareness, plus continue to provide a free take back program.  Industry in other sectors also need to take a proactive role when it comes to managing end of life product beyond mobiles, TVs and computers.

With 1 in 3 Australians having ever recycled a mobile phone, as a community we still have a long way to go.  Australia has the potential here to be leaders on the global stage in Product Stewardship and with on shore processing.