In the pockets and handbags of Australians today lie 16 million smartphones.
Every two to three years those phones are replaced, meaning around five million new phones are purchased every year.
On top of that, more than 23 million unused mobile phones populate the desk drawers and cupboards of the nation.
Of these, five million are broken, a figure which has increased by almost one million since last year.
These are the findings of a recent Ipsos consumer survey into mobile phone use and recycling, commissioned by industry-led mobile recycling program MobileMuster.
“Most of us are really good at knowing we shouldn’t throw our phones in the rubbish bin. But we still hang on to them, just in case we need them,” said Spyro Kalos, recycling manager of MobileMuster.
“A lot of the precious metals in a phone are finite, and there is an opportunity to put them back into the supply chain.”
More than 98 per cent of a mobile phone can be recycled and reused. It is a fact that three-quarters of Australians know, yet only 8 per cent of the population actually recycles their old devices.
The research found females over the age of 45 are the most likely to recycle, while males under 45 are the least likely.
Since it launched in 1998, the government-accredited MobileMuster has collected and recycled more than 1244 tonnes of mobile phone components, or 10.86 million individual handsets and batteries.
Mr Kalos said even if a mobile is broken, consumers can still send “much-needed materials into making of new electronic products”.
Plastic, precious metals, copper, cadmium and nickel can all be extracted from broken and retired phones and can be used to create everything from plastic bottles to stainless steel homewares and batteries.
Just 50,000 handsets can remove the need to mine more than 330 tonnes of precious metal ore.
After collection, MobileMuster dismantles phones and sends batteries, circuit boards and accessories to Singapore for reuse, while plastic casings are shredded to produce composite products such as pallets.
Last year Deloitte’s annual Mobile Consumer survey revealed Australia was close to reaching peak smartphone penetration, with rates expected to slow from the end of this year.
Apple device ownership grew to 43 per cent and Samsung hit 33 per cent, while Nokia, Sony, Huawei and HTC combined represented 12 per cent of the market.
Mr Kalos said constantly evolving mobile technology had changed the way consumers purchased and used mobile devices.
“Consumers are holding onto devices a lot longer. Historically it was aligned with a contract period of 18 to 24 months. But now we see consumers using them a lot longer before upgrading every two to three years,” he said.
“Part of the reason is you can upgrade the software without having to change the device.”
He added that, even when Australians do finish using a phone, they rarely extend its life by selling it, as is common in US and European markets.
According to the Ipsos survey, just 9 per cent of Australians did so in the past year, a finding also reflected by Deloitte’s 2016 survey
“Just one in 10 Australian mobile consumers are choosing to participate in the second hand phone market, lagging the global average of 15 per cent and less than half that of the 22 per cent of UK mobile consumers,” the survey found.