China has the world’s largest mobile phone user population, at an incredible 889 million. And 29.6 % of these users buy Nokia devices. But what happens when the Chinese, who on average change their device every 15 months, want a new one? Most of them unfortunately just throw their old phone away with as few 1% recycled. To combat this trend Nokia introduced the “Green Box” project in 2005. This concept introduced collection boxes at more than 700 Nokia service centers at mobile phone retail outlets in nearly 300 cities. To see what happens to those Nokia devices that don’t get recycled there, check out these amazing pictures, taken by Dutch Artist/Designer David Kousemaker.
Cellphone recycling city
In 2010, David’s fascination for the impact technology has on culture lead him to Shenzen, Guangdong Province, where he documented how cellphones are traded as a commodity or even as a raw material. David writes on his blog Tech Travels, “In a hidden corner of Hua Qiang Bei there are two large buildings that are primarily dedicated to cellphones. One entrepreneur I talked to, told me he bought his phones in bulk from a wholesaler who got them from garbage sorters in Hong Kong and other major cities in Asia.”
“Outside,” he writes, “I see a guy sorting through big bags of phone circuit boards. I’m not sure but I think he might be picking out the ones with particular chipsets that are in demand right now.”
The plastic shells are also then removed. David says, “There isn’t much money to be made there, but the low price of Chinese labor makes it worth someone’s time to separate the last bits of metal from the plastic.”
Then the components are picked off one by one and sorted.
“Next,” David says, “the solder is removed and the components are cleaned and sorted further. For many of the shops, this seems to be the main activity. With some exceptions, this work seems to be predominantly done by teenage girls and young women.”
Some of the parts are so small they can only be handled with tweezers.
If you want to see more of the amazing shots David’s taken, of the unintended ecosystems that spring up around consumer electronics in developing nations, check out his blog. We’re sure you’ll agree his pictures give an amazing insight into how electronic “junk” can be reused and recycled.
And if you know of any more markets around the world where phones are taken apart like this, please do let us know.