This report by Forum for the Future is from 2006, but I doubt much has changed in two years, in terms of the environmental costs of mobile devices.
“The scope of the paper is the whole mobile phone sector, including networks, offices and retail. The first section of the paper provides an introduction and overview; the second section looks at the four processes most responsible for the sector's environmental impact (extracting raw materials used in phones and networks, manufacturing phone components, running networks, and managing equipment at end-of-life); the third section reviews a number of other important processes; and finally, in the fourth section, we look at what the future might hold.”
There is not a lot of cheery news in this report, but they try to end on a positive note:
“Using mobile phones may reduce an individual’s personal environmental impact, for example through transport substitution or effective energy management, but the research to support this idea is currently lacking. There is significant opportunity to further understand the potentially positive impacts associated with the behavioural impacts of mobile use through a detailed research programme. In addition, there are opportunities for the mobile industry to develop products and services that support and encourage better environmental behaviour.”
Cell Phone Recycling
(be sure to read the comments on this video at YouTube)
Recycling is a start, but clearly not the entire solution. The following is from an MSNBC article posted in January, 2008.
“But charity watchdogs caution that there are potential downsides: Most of the money ends up in the hands of middlemen who resell the devices. And these for-profit companies — including EcoPhones, Phoneraiser, FundingFactory, CollectiveGood, Think Recycle, ReCellular, Cellular Funds and Project KOPEG (Keep Our Planet Earth Green) — are rapidly proliferating, perhaps at the expense of similar nonprofits.
What’s more, U.S. “recycling” programs may end up exporting hazardous waste problems to developing nations ill equipped to deal with them, they say.”
Cell Phone Recycling Links
The EPA has an informational site for cell phone recycling.
Apple and others have teamed with “Rethink”
Google on “cell phone recycling”