12 top operators* from across the world joined forces with the GSMA, the organisation that represents the mobile industry globally, to produce a new set of benchmark goals, boosting the sector’s aspirations for circularity. The project was spearheaded by Tele2 and Orange. The new objectives are intended to expedite and improve on the work already being done by the mobile industry as it makes efforts to depart from the conventional ‘take-make-dispose’ approach to the materials used in mobile devices.

Operators have made the following commitments:

  • Increased mobile phone take-back

By 2030, operator take-back programmes will have collected at least 20% as many used mobile devices as new ones that are sold directly to consumers.

  • Increase mobile device recycling to stop trashing or burning devices

By 2030, all discarded mobile devices retrieved through operator take-back programmes will be fixed, put to use again, or given to regulated recycling companies.

This new set of objectives is meant to support existing commitments, such as operators’ own targets, initiatives, and national take-back programmes, in reducing “e-waste,” extending the lifespan of mobile devices by giving them a second life, and recycling materials to be used in new smartphones. The environmental impact of a refurbished phone can be 87% lower than that of a newly built phone. According to the GSMA, five billion mobile phones could be properly recycled and yield eight billion dollars’ worth of gold, palladium, silver, copper, rare earth elements, and other essential minerals, as well as enough cobalt for ten million electric vehicle batteries.

The numbers made public show the wealth of precious materials that are available for reuse or ethical recycling. Effective use of such materials might potentially reduce the cost of producing mobile phones and address the challenges to affordability that keep more people from going online. Operators are also aware that more needs to be done to address issues like data privacy, the need to preserve priceless memories held on devices, and the need to have a backup device that prevent users from surrendering handsets.

“Most mobile operators around the world are already taking concrete actions to rapidly cut their carbon emissions over the next decade. Moreover, mobile connectivity is playing a major role in helping all sectors of the economy reduce their climate impact, enabling smarter and more efficient manufacturing, transport, and building, to name a few. However, mobile operators are determined to go further. We believe in the need to move to a more circular economy to reduce the impact of mobile technology on the environment, and applaud the latest commitments from 12 leading operators to accelerate the transition to greater circularity. In addition to the environmental benefits, more efficient and responsible use of resources could lower costs and make devices more affordable for the unconnected.”, said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer for the GSMA.

Philippe Lucas, EVP, Devices and Partnerships, Orange, said: “This initiative underlines the significant momentum under way in the operator community to boost decarbonisation and the circular economy and we are proud to be part of it. 

“It is only by working collectively that we can succeed, hence why Orange is playing a pivotal role in driving device longevity in the smartphone ecosystem, working with hardware and OS  providers alike. Initiatives like these underscore our unwavering commitment to a sustainable future and will support Orange’s mission to attain net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.”

“The growing amount of e-waste, including mobile phones, that is generated each year is not only an environmental challenge for our industry, but also a huge loss of potential financial value. To promote a more circular flow of resources is a key priority for Tele2, and I am grateful that we can contribute to that priority by leading this GSMA project together with Orange. As the environmental and business benefits of implementing a circular business model are clear, I hope that many more operators around the world will join us in the ambition of zero waste and increased take-back rate by 2030.” completedErik Wottrich, Head of Sustainability at Tele2.

This most recent endeavour builds on the GSMA’s Strategy Paper for Circular Economy: Mobile Devices, which was released in November 2022 and outlines the industry’s future as follows:

devices that last as long as feasible, are entirely recyclable and composed of recycled materials, use only renewable energy, and never become waste.

* Operators include: BT Group, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad, KDDI, NOS, Orange, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel, Tele2 and Telefonica.


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