back to article Brits are sitting on a time bomb of 40m old electronic devices that ought to be recycled

Brits are stockpiling an estimated 40 million old phones and laptops instead of recycling their digital detritus, which contain elements that could run out in the near future. A survey of 2,353 people by the Royal Society of Chemistry found 51 per cent of UK households have at least one unused electronic device, while 45 per …

  1. Alister Silver badge

    He added that people should refrain from upgrading their phones every two years and go for SIM-only deals instead.

    That's all very well, but none of the main mobile producers support old phone models for very long, and trying to run the latest Android or IOS on any phone older than say four years is going to be a struggle - if it's even supported.

    1. monty75

      I'm still using a 2014 iPhone 6 Plus. It's running the latest version of iOS 12. But Androids? Yeah, useless bricks in no time.

      1. sabroni Silver badge

        Facts that show google in a bad light?

        Downvote!!! DOWNVOTE!!!!!!

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Facts that show google in a bad light?

          "Downvote!!! DOWNVOTE!!!!!!"

          Yeh- Windows Phones rule!

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Happy

        Got ya beat, mate.

        Mines a 5 :-)

        I live on hand-me-downs from the wife and daughter, who must have the latest shiny things.

        (And it has already been to the shop for a new battery at least once)

        1. K Silver badge

          Its the other way round for me.. My wife would live with her phone for 5 years, but there would be incessant complaints of how slow its, I force her to upgrade to avoid having to be IT Support. I on the other hand, get bored of bricking my phones (constantly rooting them etc) and replace it every 12 months (partially funded through selling on my old one via eBay).

          But 40m devices? Has to be more than that, my house alone has at least 15-20 old phones and laptops sitting around..

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Mine's a 4!! Well it was until an Apple update bricked it a few weeks ago...

          Like you, I have the wife's hand me downs. Replaced the 4 with a Samsung S6 - hand-me-down from her in-laws.

          I keep stuff until it stops working, or can't be repaired.

      3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        Trollface

        I would hope so, paying 4x more than what you should have for a mobile device is an absolute outrage!

        1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Oh dear a downvote, its a shame my Motorola G3 (2015) still lives on with someone else as their first smart phone (Why not, the battery was still good and was getting annoyed at charging the battery every 2 days).

          Just reset and put the original case on and a work colleague asked for it. As the battery is replaceable when the battery goes bad it can easily be renewed (DAMN U MOTOROLA FOR REMOVING THIS!).

          Look forward to hearing from you downvoter.

      4. JohnFen Silver badge

        My Android phone is older than that and is still chugging along fine.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Working, yes. Getting OS updates? Probably not.

          I have a Sony Xperia Z5 Compact bought in 2015. It works fine except it has not received any OS updates since 2017. Supposedly it's down to Qualcomm not providing updated drivers for the chipset. I'd like to get a new one but the current phones in this size (something that fits in a shirt pocket) seem to be dowgrades.

          1. JohnFen Silver badge

            "Getting OS updates?"

            I have no idea, as I replace the nonsense that comes stock on any Android device with my own ROM, and so they only update when I manually update them. Which is how I prefer it.

            Regardless of that, how often (or if) a device gets updates is not something that factors into my purchasing decisions at all -- unless I can't stop the updates, in which case it counts as a minus.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm using a 2013 Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

        Stuck on Lollipop but I can choose to get latest security update with LineageOS.

        Can revert to old app versions should the new app gets c*cked by the dev, Samsung updates, or Google themselves.

        Can also drag and drop files without the need for cloud or root (android equivalent of Jailbreak).

        Using 10000maH zerolemon Battery. Actual battery, not a stupid dangling power bank.

        Man, people like me must be bad for business for the company's yearly shiny thingamajig releases.

        No wonder Sammy copied the sealed batteries of Apple.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      At least you can easily change the battery with an Android

      1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        > At least you can easily change the battery with an Android

        YMMV

      2. Ed3

        Replaceable battery

        Sounds like someone hasn't bought a new phone since 2015.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Replaceable battery

          There's easy, and there's "easy". Some phones still have removable batteries (Moto G5, released 2017), some have really easy access to the battery, but you're going to need to undo some tiny screws and un-gum some glue (Nokia 3.1).

          Most seem to go for gluing the batteries into the middle of a glued together case though :(

      3. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        To be fair, I changed the battery in my wife's iPhone 5 the other day. Okay, it needs a bit more prep than opening a battery compartment, but I would have completed it in less than 15 minutes if I wasn't also replacing the Lightning port and the screen at the same time.

        Of the four phones I regularly use, all of them have proper replaceable batteries (three Notes of various vintages and a Jolla). I won't have a phone that doesn't have this sensible function, so I'm probably stuck with Note 4s for the foreseeable future.

    3. Voidstorm
      Black Helicopters

      While that's all well and good...

      ... I'm still using an HTC Incredible S.

      I don't need a wrist-mounted mini desktop computer where a phone will do, sort of.

      Since most of what I do on that is phonecalls and texts. :]

      Don't ask me how old the thing is, either...

    4. DougS Silver badge

      The iPhone 4S just got a patch last month!

      Even though Apple dropped it from getting new iOS releases three years ago. This was to fix the GPS "rollover" issue caused by GPS using a 10 bit value for the week. Not bad for a device released almost 8 years ago!

      The iPhone 5S released 6 years ago next month is still supported by the current iOS. It and other devices with 1GB RAM will be dropped with iOS 13, but the preceding shows that even if they aren't getting the latest iOS they will still get critical patches to keep them operating or block actively exploited security issues.

      Sorry, but the facts are against anyone trying to claim that iPhones and Androids are in any way alike in terms of how long or how well they get software support.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The iPhone 4S just got a patch last month!

        and if you don't have the ORIGINAL battery, the update will brick it.

  2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    But remember folks...

    Remove any parts that might store data (HDD, DRAM etc) and erase all the data on them with a cold chisel and a lump hammer before recycling the rest of the kit.

    1. Dr. G. Freeman

      Re: But remember folks...

      I find giving any data storage a hydrofluoric acid bath until they resemble a soup is usually secure enough

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: But remember folks...

        But how do you then recycle the "soup" into usable stuff in a sustainable way?

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: But remember folks...

          "But how do you then recycle the "soup" into usable stuff in a sustainable way?"

          "Eat" the soup, eh?

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: But remember folks...

      No, recycle those too.

      The DRAM has no storage ability after the power has been removed for long enough. Test it and if its working sell or reuse it.

      HDD's (if working) can be wiped securely using the ATA secure erase command. This will wipe all areas of the disc, even blocks marked bad. If the drive isnt working then use the drill. If you cant use secure erase for some reason you can just wipe it with zeros. Modern drives have such a high density that simply overwriting a file once makes it basically impossible to get the data back unless you really really want it and have the time and money (the drill wont stop them in that case).

      SSD's, modern ones (some time after this report https://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/02/21/flash_drive_erasing_peril/), should implement the secure erase command properly. Old ones were found to not do so and even lie about it. Overwriting the drive however is a different beast. Due to the self destructive nature of SSD's they usually come with a significant amount of extra space reserved for use automatically for replacing bad blocks or wear leveling. The secure erase command SHOULD wipe these areas too but again YMMV depending on the age of the drive. If the SSD is not fairly recent and did not have FDE enabled you may wish to drill through each chip.

      USB flashdrives should be shredded. Unless you encrypted them too.

      TBH if you are going to the length of drilling through the drives then that data thats so sensitive should have been encrypted in the first place. Read up on it and implement proper file or filesystem encryption so next time you can recucle the drive responsibaly and remain secure (to a reasonable extent).

      If you need to hide data from evil governments or men in back destroy the drives, or use paper next time, it burns extremily well.

      1. Cederic Bronze badge

        Re: But remember folks...

        I completely agree that having used the secure erase command you should recycle hard disks and SSDs. By grinding them into tiny pieces and melting those.

      2. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: But remember folks...

        I just keep all of the hard drives I've ever owned forever. It's the safest thing to do, and it's saved me a couple of times when I've needed something that I had on a hard drive 20 years ago.

    3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: But remember folks...

      I would think, since the hardware is going to be broken down to it's constituent elements as part of the recycling, a very powerful magnetic pulse through the device in heavily shielded containment should effectively wipe the device. It's not being repurposed as-is, so you don't have to worry about making it usable in it's current form.

      A degausser/HDD eraser like the one we had in our test lab is about the size (probably smaller) of a mid-tower computer. So make one that can handle tablets & such as well, and zap them hard enough to wipe any data on them. Then they can safely go through the dismantling and recycling process.

      For that matter we should be mining our own landfills for raw materials (harder to isolate "rare metals" when you can't separate out the electronics ahead of time). Not so much for the electronics, but for any raw materials in general.

      1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        Re: But remember folks...

        > A degausser/HDD eraser

        Unfortunately that will not have any effect on a tablet or mobile, or basically anything using solid state storage.

        That device can only wipe a magnetic storage medium. It has no effect whatsoever on a medium that stores electrical charges. You may be thinking that a current will be induced in the device, that could happen and may even damage it. But what gets damaged? The flash chips? Or the interface controller? The induced current strength would depend on the length of copper trace on the PCB that connects to a (hopfully) critical pin on the chip. Many of this chips pins could get to the same potential voltage thus wont nescesarily do damage anyway.

        This study had the SSD's put through a degausser. They suffered no damage whatsoever:

        https://www.usenix.org/legacy/events/fast11/tech/full_papers/Wei.pdf

  3. mj.jam

    49% have no old devices

    Maybe I'm too far from normal. I can't imagine anybody without an old device at home.

    I'm in the 10+ category (Kindles, old phones, old laptops, old desktops, digital cameras,...) and that is before I could anybody else's stuff.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: 49% have no old devices

      We recycle regularly. I have one old Lumia 950 in a draw as a backup phone, in case one of our current phones dies - although how useful that will be going forward is another question...

      I do have an old Kindle, but everything else has been sent to the recycling centre or is waiting to go there - I have recently decommissioned an old Sony laptop and Mac mini, I need to erase the drives before they go to the recycling centre.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 49% have no old devices

        DRAWER

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: 49% have no old devices

          "DRAWER"

        2. big_D Silver badge

          Re: 49% have no old devices

          Sorry, here is about the only place I write English

    2. Halfmad Silver badge

      Re: 49% have no old devices

      I still use my Kindle from 2012 or so, has no backlight etc but I like it's dull screen, somehow easy on the eyes in a well lit room and have no desire to replace it.

      Doesn't stop Amazon spamming me relentlessly to do so but the fact my kid has stood on mine and it's still going strong has won me over, great little basic device.

  4. Totally not a Cylon

    Want my old devices? give me money

    As the title, if I paid £600 for my old phone and you want me to recycle it when I buy a new £800 phone then give me at least 25% off the new phone.

    My old, but still working, phone is worth almost as much as a new phone to me because it works.

    These expensive gadgets are not newspapers or mags which we can just chuck in the recycling, if these elements are rare then the companies can just well pay us a reasonable amount for our old gadgets in a proper trade-in deal.

    Might also encourage the manufacturers to make them a bit more easily repairable if they're going to end up paying a lot to get them back.....

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Want my old devices? give me money

      if these elements are rare then the companies can just well pay us a reasonable amount for our old gadgets in a proper trade-in deal.

      The trpuble with that is in this quote from the article: "even if recycled it is still extremely difficult to recover some of these elements from unused devices."

      Difficult also means expensive. Only when the elements become rare enough for the expense of recovery to fall below the expense of mining will it become economic to recycle things. The best option might be to keep storing stuff until that day arrives.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Want my old devices? give me money

      "My old, but still working, phone is worth almost as much as a new phone to me because it works."

      I think you were the target demographic for the "Stop Buying Phones!!" advice earlier

    3. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: Want my old devices? give me money

      As the title, if I paid £600 for my old phone and you want me to recycle it when I buy a new £800 phone then give me at least 25% off the new phone.

      PAY you? Hah! A local waste management company *used* to have a dumpster at their site where you could just drop in electronics. Last time I went there they wanted to CHARGE me to drop them off, and it wasn't cheap either. Local "bulk pickup" days, they won't take electronics. Most I can do these days is strip the drvices down to their pieces (metal, plastic, glass, then boards). Metal goes in our metal scrap pile, plastic in the recycling bin (it can just be ground up & reused), and I save the boards for when I'm meeting with my counterparts at an IBM site, and drop them in the electronics bin there (considering some of the stuff came *OUT* of those bins when I was still working there).

      Might also encourage the manufacturers to make them a bit more easily repairable if they're going to end up paying a lot to get them back.....

      Well, there's the trick, giving the manufactures the incentive. But you think they fight the "Right to Repair" legislation a lot? Wait until they'd face having to recycle all that stuff...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Want my old devices? give me money

        "Last time I went there they wanted to CHARGE me to drop them off, "

        Back in the day, when doing a refresh install of new kit for customers, we would ofyen pay them for theor olf kit as we could sell it on to refurbishers. Then we reached a point where that was barley economically viable and would offer to take away the crap for free. Once the WEEE regulations came in (actually probably sooner than that) a point was reached where the only option was to charge to take away their crap or simply tell them we don't want their crap.

      2. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Want my old devices? give me money

        Our local council waste disposal point lets householders dispose of electrical items (& much more) at no cost (has to be free as WEEE rules mean electrical goods manufactuers etc. pay a levy to provide free household WEEE handling)

        You should not be charged - WEEE rules specifically state that private householders should have at least chance to return WEEE free of charge (the "at least" implying you could even be given cash for returning them, so incentive schemes for handing in old phones for cash permissible under the law).

        @jelabarre59 sounds like your local waste management company are a bit dodgy as should have directed you towards free household recycling schemes such as council one, rather than charging you.

        1. M.V. Lipvig

          Re: Want my old devices? give me money

          Hmm, direct a person to a free recycler or get money from them for their device, then take it to the free recycler myself. What to do, what to do...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Want my old devices? give me money

      Why not? They do a similar thing with cars in the UK

  5. Mage Silver badge
    Alert

    contain elements that could run out in the near future

    That's dubious. Potentially we might use up oil or Helium. The Rare Earths etc are not rare.

    I heard this on the BBC R4 news this morning and wondered:

    a) How much (if any) is recovered other than maybe gold?

    b) How much simply gets land filled, possibly overseas?

    c) Is the recovery environmentally friendly?

    d) Will recovery use badly paid workers getting poisoned?

    e) What are these people selling?

    I agree stuff isn't made to last long enough nor supported long enough nor repairable.

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

      Radio 4 News this morning said something like "indium is going to run out in 100 years".

      It's been pointed out on el Reg before that "known supplies of x" is a measure of the cost/benefit of searching for more x, rather than an indication of the amount of actual quantity of x.

      BBC News web page says: "Take it to your local tip," advised Stuart Price from Electrical Waste Recycling in Huddersfield. "Or a retailer - distributors actually have an obligation to take back material when you buy a new product from them."

      I wonder how much I have to buy to make a retailer accept the past 20 years of obsolete computer bits in my cupboards? And will he recycle it, or just dump it in the bin out back?

      1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

        > And will he recycle it, or just dump it in the bin out back?

        If the shop is like the one I worked at as a teen the stuff will be looked through by the young teens/adults and carefully placed out the back next to the skip on a day with good weather. Then they will go round the back "on the way home" and grab whatever took their fancy.

        The geeks in the bunch will pick up the stuff the normie ones leave because they dont know what it is, it looks too old and uncool or its broken and they cant think about fixing it. Its like a buch of seagulls picking apart a bag of rubbish!

        1. Suricou Raven

          Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

          This is actually an effective recycling program.

    2. AceRimmer1980

      Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

      Take your stuff to the tip. Do 'green'. That's the public message. What they don't tell you, is how big a business it is.

      At my local tip, half the recycling is operated by private contractors, who make a profit from your old stuff. They even have a rule that you are not allowed to give away old (but still functioning) TV's, cause, yep, they make $$$ of it.

      Anything else is simply incinerated. They're even proud of the fact, 'energy from waste', they call it.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

        "They even have a rule that you are not allowed to give away old (but still functioning) TV's, cause, yep, they make $$$ of it."

        Who's "they"? The local authority?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

          Same here. Someone here got charged with theft, fraud, AND under the Computer Misuse Act for taking a 22" flat screen TV that the guy delivering it said "sure its still in my car not in the grounds" or some other such thing. Apparently the TV got returned and they negotiated it down to a caution.

          AC because unlike some folks I value my remaining limbs....

          1. MrBanana

            Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

            I was taking some old furniture down the dump and, while getting it out of the car, I was approached by a couple of people who wanted to take it away for their own use. I said "sure", but was pounced on by the men in hi-vis and told that it was theirs now, and it couldn't legally be given to anyone else. The scumbag jobsworths were quite objectionable, and paid no heed that it was a couple of nuns, just wanting some furniture for a woman's shelter they were running. The dump is the very last resort if you can't find a more dedicated recycling centre.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

              "pounced on by the men in hi-vis and told that it was theirs now, and it couldn't legally be given to anyone else. "

              You should have told them to mind their own business. Until it's in the skip, it's still yours.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

              I consider the tip as the last resort for manky old stuff. Anything that has life left in it will go on trading website for free.

              When I closed my business I needed to get rid of a lot of stuff in a hurry. I put a fridge and microwave up for free and a young couple that just got married and were broke got it. Since my aunt gave them to me to use in my shop, I see it as paying it forward.

              If it weren't for lawyers and insurance companies, many things taken to landfill could be given a new life rather than just buried.

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

          Re: the guy charged for taking something that was *about* to be discarded, with the owner's permission.

          That's one he should have taken to court. A lawyer would have made mincemeat of the cops, especially if the former owner could have been convinced to give testimony.

          I live in a small town. The electronics waste flow is not high enough for them to get paid for it, so they have to pay to get rid of it. Scavengers cut their costs, so they're fine with "withdrawals" as well as deposits.

          The wife, on the other hand...

          1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

            Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

            > Scavengers cut their costs, so they're fine with "withdrawals" as well as deposits.

            Where I live in the UK the local tip has CCTV cameras to catch you in the act of scavenging. The tip staff however scavenge openly anything they think will go on ebay. When you walk up to the skip with something that catches their eye (like a sky tv box) they will helpfully take it from you to "save you the trouble" of chucking it into the skip yourself.

            I even found that the entrance to the tip is covered by ANPR so they can match you to your numberplate thus find out where you live should they need to recover any items you "stole".

        3. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

          "Who's "they"? The local authority?"

          yeah im confused too, but here's how it should be:

          You should have a legal right to take whatever the hell you want out of a recycling centre if you think you can make use of it , that is by a mile the best way to "recycle"

          Sure it'll cut down the profits on the recycling centres used TV business, but that'll help them concentrate on properly recycling the stuff that cant be used "as is" , they could be subsidised or un-privatised if necessary

          1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

            "they" in the above posting is our town ("council"). In the US, the local government contracts waste/recycling using money form your property taxes. For larger items, you have to drop them off at a recycling center, sometimes paying an additional fee to defray the costs of recycling them (things like tube monitors, appliances, couches, etc).

            Usually, the smaller the authority, the more flexible, but also the more expensive it is to get something like a TV recycled (not enough volume, so transportation and processing costs dominate).

      2. IsJustabloke
        Megaphone

        Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

        "Take your stuff to the tip. Do 'green'. That's the public message. What they don't tell you, is how big a business it is."

        My local tip has a corner reserved for stuff that could be reused. Twice a day a van and trailer rock up and load all the stuff from the corner. It's all taken to the HUGE recycling center down the road and sold on to whoever wants it from a "re-use" shop. The money raised is used to refurbish bicycles which are in turn sold to needy locals at a nominal cost plus £5. Works really well and everyone wins. The nominal fiver is used to run the van and trailer.

        The scheme was put in place by workers at the tips who got fed up with "What can I do with this? seems a shame to dump it" they all take turns running the "shop" and the local authority turn a blind eye to the whole thing because the only response they have is to stop it but didn't want to .

        How every progressive :)

    3. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

      > Potentially we might use up oil or Helium

      Helium baloons. STOP SELLING HELIUM BALOONS!!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

        For some completely unknown reason, I translated the capital letters into a squeaky voice when I read that...

    4. Homeboy

      Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

      One BBCNews reporter covering this actually referred to "endangered elements" which is an interesting concept.

    5. David Paul Morgan
      Go

      Re: contain elements that could run out in the near future

      who is to say that we will still be building circuits & components in the same way in the future?

      I certainly think that, if you're on a 'contract' then a trade-in after 24 months should be offered, putting the problem back onto the suppliers.

      Time to re-examine the manufacturing chain - someone has already mentioned 'right to repair'.

      This handy list on the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17357863

      How 'fragile' are some of these elements & compounds? Can they be extracted from the metal remaining after industrial incineration? (eg reclaimed from Energy-from-Waste plants)

  6. James 51 Silver badge
    Gimp

    Fairphone 3 then?

  7. Baldrickk Silver badge

    I have surprisingly few, but that said, I had a clear-out when I moved house and finally said goodbye to my old Pentium 4 system... Maybe it's because I like to hold onto things.

    I still use my old smart-phone. It makes for a pretty good wifi camera, with the ability to process images itself, send out alerts and so on.

    It served me well in my last place - I was often two floors away from the front door, and it would alert me to people coming to ring the doorbell before they arrived - handy when a) the ringer was by the door (again, two floors away) so quiet and b) you could be on the way down already.

    Cheaper than buying a Ring Doorbell to do the same thing, as long as it's got a good vantage point.

    1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      > Cheaper than buying a Ring Doorbell to do the same thing

      Also under your own complete control and not accessed by the police to turn your doorbell into a CCTV system for the streets.

    2. Cederic Bronze badge

      Did you install third party software to enable this? Yes, I'm too lazy to write my own.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    FAIL

    It does what I want

    I'll replace when it doesn't. I don't buy anything as a fashion statement - in fact, I never did. That's it. End of story.

  9. Tigra 07 Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

    "Indium is going to run out in 20 years if we carry on using it the way we do," said professor David Cole-Hamilton, vice President of European nonprofit EUChem"

    David Cole-Hamilton is a complete idiot for making that statement. Indium is the 68th most common element in the Earth's crust (Which is frankly huge).

    From Wikipedia: "Different estimates exist of the amounts of indium contained within the ores of other metals. However, these amounts are not extractable without mining of the host materials (see Production and availability). Thus, the availability of indium is fundamentally determined by the rate at which these ores are extracted, and not their absolute amount. This is an aspect that is often forgotten in the current debate, e.g. by the Graedel group at Yale in their criticality assessments, explaining the paradoxically low depletion times some studies cite."

    Professor Cole-Hamilton is scare-mongering for news coverage and should be ashamed of himself.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

      Similar things were said about oil in the 70s. It turns out that all the 'researchers' were doing was asking oil companies how many years worth of reserves they had. It turns out that oil companies stop (or at least slow down) their search for new reserves when they feel like they already have enough.

      If you asked me how much milk I had left I'd tell you it was about two litres. But that doesn't mean I'm about to run out of it. It just means that I'll have to buy some more in a couple of days.

      1. M.V. Lipvig

        Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

        Yup, that's why peak oil has been 30 years of availability for the last 150 years. When they've identified 30 years worth of proven reserves, they stop looking. When supply hits 10 to 15 years of proven reserves, they start looking again.

        Sobfarvas sustainability, I've always felt that the Earth creates oil, and that it being made of condensed dinosaurs is because they found dino bits in the oil and jumped to a conclusion. The Earth's mantle is a place where elements are created from other elements, and synthetic oil is created with heat and pressure much like you find miles underground. Plus, empty, drained and abandoned oil fields have been found to be full again. But, it's not in the oil company's best intetests if it's discovered that oil is a renewable commodity.

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

      Maybe he's anti-recycling, trying to get folks to buy into the "elements are getting scarcer, so stockpile what you've got (and buy even more of them) as they'll be worth a fortune in 100 years time

    3. batfink Bronze badge

      Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

      Clearly Prof Cole-Hamilton is a Chemist rather than an Economist.

      1. ivan5 Bronze badge

        Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

        More likely he is an academic that should get out into the real world rather than sit in some university and moan.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Takes less than a minute to look this stuff up...

      I vaguely remember something quoted recently about electric cars.

      Heavily paraphrasing as I can't remember the exact details, but it went something like..."If everyone had an electric car in the UK we would need 2x the world's global supply of xyz".

      Well of course you would need more than the current supply. If there is currently no excess demand for something then they wouldn't make 2x the amount of it each year. It'd be a waste and drive prices to rock bottom.

      The supply is only ever going to match the current demand + maybe a small percentage.

      The story basically says "if we increase our need for a resource then supply will have to increase to provide it", hardly a scare story.

  10. Tim Worstal

    As I rather did say around here a few times

    "Indium is going to run out in 20 years if we carry on using it the way we do," said professor David Cole-Hamilton, vice President of European nonprofit EUChem"

    Yes, that's complete bollocks.

    We don't have any recorded reserves of indium at all. From the USGS:

    https://prd-wret.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets/palladium/production/s3fs-public/atoms/files/mcs-2019-indiu.pdf

    And we haven't had any reserves either. And yet we still get indium each and every year.

    It's almost as if Wikipedia is correct here:

    "Thus, the availability of indium is fundamentally determined by the rate at which these ores are extracted, and not their absolute amount."

    *Sigh*

    1. Tigra 07 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: As I rather did say around here a few times

      I've posted the exact same thing above. This Professor is an idiot.

      I actually heard similar arguments about hydrogen years ago in an argument about hydrogen-powered cars. HYDROGEN CAN'T RUN OUT! IT'S THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENT IN THE UNIVERSE!

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: As I rather did say around here a few times

        There's a local Green Party member who is convinced we're going to run out of silicon if we keep making all the chips we do without recycling. Point out to him that it’s over a quarter of the Earth’s crust by weight and that beaches and deserts are huge masses of silicon dioxide and he simply refuses to believe you “because you can’t trust scientists”.

        1. Tigra 07 Silver badge

          Re: As I rather did say around here a few times

          The Green Party don't believe scientists...Are the Green Party climate change deniers too these days?

    2. Bob Starling
      Happy

      Re: As I rather did say around here a few times

      You certainly did and your article

      https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/05/31/rare_metals_mineral_reserves_talk_preamble/

      is a good read.

      I enjoyed your book too.

      1. Tim Worstal

        Re: As I rather did say around here a few times

        Ah, cheers. You and the other 399 people who bought it.......none of whom appear to be at the Royal Chemistry Society.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "for manufacturers to build repairability and recyclability into designs;"

    Tell that to Apple. Tell that to Louis Rossman to make him laugh.

    Samsung doesn't get away with this too. I want my batteries to be removable, gosh dang it. My phone works perfectly, except for the poor battery life.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not allowed to

    Refer to certain metals as "Having a street price of $xxx" as it tends to attract unwanted attention. Plus I bought them fair and square so if you want them, pay the appropriate amount per gram. I accept BTc, iTunes cards, Kruger rands, flawless blue whites, gold, negotiable bearer bonds...

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      Coat

      Don't be so picky. Just take dollars, like everybody else.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Don't be so picky. Just take dollars, like everybody else.

        ...or receive "Freedon from Above!!"

      2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

        > Don't be so picky. Just take dollars, like everybody else.

        Alterian dollars?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I prefer currencies that are portable. Something 0.18LY on a side does not qualify.

          Also generally speaking carting planets around simply isn't feasible unless you are Doctor Who or have some reason to have exatons of refined metals.

  13. steviebuk Silver badge

    Tell Apple that..

    .."He added that people should refrain from upgrading their phones every two years and go for SIM-only deals instead.

    Many conflict elements are mined in areas where fierce battles and child labour are often a routine part of their extraction, the RSC noted.!"

    Considering they've been, along with some of the other players, fighting "Right to repair" in the hope they can crush it and force you to upgrade every 1 or 2 years. More so Apple with their recent dick move of pairing the batteries in the iPhone 10 range to the devices. Even if you take out a brand new official Apple battery from a brand new iPhone X and put it into your year old iPhone X, the battery health service will say the battery needs attention and replaced. All bullshit. And all an attempt to stop 3rd party repair shops.

    The other day I made 2 working HP laptops from one broken laptop by swapping parts. I made one working Samsung Tablet work by swapping the battery from one with a smashed screen. I've fixed about 3 tablets when the screen was dead by popping it open and reseating the screen cable. All because we can, but the likes of Apple and now even Microsoft are trying the hardest to make their shit unrepairable.

    Also doesn't help local recycling plants are standardised. One will take plastic bottles with lids, another won't. One will take the cat food pouches, another one won't.

    It's all a mess and Right to Repair needs to be enforced world wide.

    1. It's just me
      Happy

      Re: Tell Apple that..

      > I made 2 working HP laptops from one broken laptop by swapping parts.

      That's amazing, how did you do this?

      1. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Tell Apple that..

        I was ranting Mr/Mrs/Ms Pedantic!

        I should of said "I made 2 broken HP laptops work using parts from one broken HP laptop"

        :)

        Ignore all the other mistakes due to my insistence on typing quickly and pressing submit before re-reading what I've written. I blame work getting in the way of me proofreading :)

  14. DuncanLarge Silver badge

    Recycle?

    Wait, I can recycle this sh*t?

    Lol I keep loads of stuff (and buy more off ebay) due to my in-built collector (hoarder) instinct for keeping hold of old tech "just in case" and as part of a retro collection.

    I also hoarded some scsi hdd's and server VRU's as they could be sold on ebay to those poor souls trying to keep aging hardware running in a business that has no care about whats in the server room or how old it is (I've been there). Never did get around to selling much of anything so its all just dumped into drawers in my house.

    I would have taken the stuff to the local tip but I was reluctant as I did not think that I could trust it all to go into the recycling process and not just end up in landfill with ET carts.

    Perhaps its time I have a bit of a clear out. Just the useless stuff mind you, the HP DL380 PSU's and VRU's. The floppy disc drives that came out of servers that I cant remember, the scsi HDD's that had a questionable life span remaining when I salvaged them. I'm keeping my 486 and other old PC bits, I have uses for those.

    I tend to use my mobiles till they start falling apart. My laptops mostly hail from 2012 or 2013. I keep hold of many things that still work till they just die, for example, if I want to record some birdsong or other outdoors sound I will likely just use one of my working minidisc recorders as they record audio and I have them so why buy a flash based one?

    I hate e-waste. I've never been keen on simply going with the flow and grabbing the latest tech just because it has a different colour option and larger screen than last years model.

  15. Dapprman
    FAIL

    Article fails to cover where to recycle

    I've actually looked in to this over the years. Until recently the only place near me which would take old tech charged to do so - not much of a encouragement for me. We've now actually got a charity computer recycler, but they won't touch mobile phones, so it's all well and good for these articles to talk about a problem, but they need to push for or look at a solution first.

  16. phil_4

    Crisp Packet?

    We struggle to recycle a crisp packet... let alone a small complex electrical device.

    Let's be honest, the council tip will do one of two things... landfill if it's old, or flog it to a company who refurb it and sell it on.

    1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Crisp Packet?

      > Let's be honest, the council tip will do one of two things... landfill if it's old

      I was at the tip a while back and took a look in the "small appliances" skip as you do.

      Saw a BBC micro in there. Probably chcuked in there "because its old". If only they knew the National Museum of Computing in bletchley down the road would have had it even for parts.

      If I had grabbed it I know what I'd do with it. I'd use it like a big RPi and have it water my garden by operating valves and pumps.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This old canard again?

    "Indium is going to run out in 20 years if we carry on using it the way we do," said professor David Cole-Hamilton

    No it f-ing isn't! You'd think a prof could grasp the difference between a reserve and a resource.

    Besides, keeping old devices until there's a real shortage of these materials sounds like sensible financial advice because presumably they'll shoot up in value.

    The problem with collecting this junk when there's zero financial incentive to do so is that "recycling" almost inevitably means shipping it all off to be dumped into third world landfill.

  18. chivo243 Silver badge
    Happy

    Step into my Museum!

    I've lost count of how many vintage devices are rattling around my *ahem* museum. I know the missus wants to know!

  19. G R Goslin

    Fake News

    This came up yesterday on the Beeb news site. In a word, it's fake news to alarm and frighten. Taking one example, Arsenic, the annual production in 2016 of the oxide was 37,100 tonnes. One Canadian gold mine the Giant Mine of Yellowknife has 237,000 tonnes stored underground, in the abandoned mine, as a byproduct of gold production. Similar stocks are held worldwide , in metalliferous mines. I once read that Sweden has stocks of arsenic sufficient for global supply for the next 300 years. Arsenic is always associated with copper deposits, and because it seriously affects the conductivity of the copper, has to be removed down to a vanishing percentage. So long as we're mining copper we will never run out of arsenic. Added to this there are large swathes in India where the natives drink the stuff, to the detriment of their health since the ground water is heavily, and naturally contaminated with the stuff. Much the same can be said of the other elements quoted.

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      Re: Fake News

      "Added to this there are large swathes in India where the natives drink the stuff, to the detriment of their health since the ground water is heavily, and naturally contaminated with the stuff."

      Mostly Bangladesh. It's the biggest mass poisoning in history. Today we call them locals, not natives, especially since Britain kept slavery alive there after we banned it in the rest of our former empire.

      The British Geological Society is heavily complicit in that tragedy.

      I took a year out to develop a water filter system for that, never got it developed because someone in California had already patented the same design for yachts and didn't want to share it. Patent law is a killer.

  20. jelabarre59 Silver badge

    Cables too

    So sure, we're talking about the recycling of the electronics themselves, but what of the multitude of cables you needed to connect all those older devices? I've just started pulling out ALL my parts, cables, etc into the garage, to sort them into cable types & such. The USB and audio cables are simple enough, keep some small yet adequate number of each type, dispose of the rest. But HOW to properly dispose of the rest? And then there's the mass of SCSI cables I don't expect to ever use again. It would take too much time & effort to sell or give away the parts piecemeal, especially since I want to get things out *now*.

  21. MrKrotos

    "for manufacturers to build repairability and recyclability into designs"

    This should be made in to a LAW, I am fed up with hearing people say "recycle this, recycle that" and yet it doesnt seem to be valid for "business" because "profit".

    Whats the point in us recycling at home when business ignores this and seems to be let off...

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: "for manufacturers to build repairability and recyclability into designs"

      You'd have a very difficult time writing such a law, even before the lobbyists gut it. For one, it's going to screw with trade secret law. The single most essential item when repairing any complex electronic device is a detailed schematic, and many companies consider their designs secret - not least because if it were published, another company would rapidly make an equivalent but cheaper clone. So your repairability law would instantly undermine trade secret law, and that has seriously international implications. Plus there are some factors that render devices non-repairable for solid design reasons. Batteries glued to cases are not just to anger repair people, they are also to shave another milimeter off the device thickness. Then you have devices which, for reasons of their function, have to be intentionally tamperproofed. Payment card terminals, security locks, games consoles, cable TV boxes. As much as we might wish it were easy to just pull out the optical drive from an XBox One and stick in a new one when it broke, that would open the device up to the trivial hack of building a circuit that emulates the optical drive so you can play copied games - which is exactly why the XBOne uses a cryptographic authentication system to detect if the drive is replaced and disables itsself if such tampering is found. The only place you'll be able to clearly mandate repair-friendly design is in white goods, and I'm pretty sure even that industry would fight it.

  22. JohnFen Silver badge

    In my part of the US

    I have no idea of where to take old phones to be recycled in my part of the US -- so I have a box full of them. I'll probably have it until the day I die.

  23. DJ Smiley

    66 comments not one of you noticed the potential fire hazard.

    What happens to Li-ion battery's when allowed to discharge over years and years? Oh yes, they go a bit expandy, and then a bit explody, with flames and death and destruction.

    How long before we start seeing a state of house fires caused by forgotten devices, with discharging batteries in them?

    1. Tromos

      Re: 66 comments not one of you noticed the potential fire hazard.

      I've got some of the first Li-Ion laptop batteries lying around at the back of a drawer. Two dozen years on and they seem pretty inert to me. If they were just continuously connected to a charger, then there might be cause for concern, but if unused over a period of years I would expect any bulgy, explody activity to have shown up within the first year.

      1. Conundrum1885 Bronze badge

        Re: 66 comments not one of you noticed the potential fire hazard.

        99 Red ballooning batteries, spontaneously combusting...

        I did find one BL-5C which had puffed up to near cartoonish proportions, however it also measured 0.00V so chances are the fail usually just renders it puffy-but-inert on small batteries.

        Something the size of an iPhone 4S might be a problem though, had a few S6's go Puffy McBrokenScreenFace and never did find out why.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: 66 comments not one of you noticed the potential fire hazard.

      Why would totally discharged Li-Ion batteries explode?

      I would think that once all charge is gone they become totally inert, lacking the energy required for a state change (assuming they are left alone in a drawer and are not mechanically damaged).

      (Genuine question)

      1. JohnFen Silver badge

        Re: 66 comments not one of you noticed the potential fire hazard.

        They are extremely unlikely to explode. However, a "discharged" battery still has a fair bit of charge.

        What makes a lion battery explode is that a short develops somewhere, and the heat generated from the short causes the electrolyte to boil and expand, leading to rupture and possible ignition of the electrolyte. A battery just sitting in a drawer somewhere is very unlikely to develop an internal short of the sort required to do that.

        If the battery has been sitting for a very long time, then it will have self-discharged to the point where there is no charge left anyway. At that point, no explosion is possible.

  24. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I've got an

    old samsung galaxy 2 sitting next to me.

    Only thing stopping it being used is the dodgy usb connector and expired battery, but as the battery is replacable (by me) that would'nt stop me using it

    The current phone (a J3) will goto sim only contract in nov, a statement that lots of people I work with found laughable, but then I'm of the opinion "if it still works, whats the point in replacing it"

    Unless your ego needs the latest flashy flashy

  25. Blackjack

    Every two years?

    My 2012 Smartphone gor replaced this year. And I still use my Samsung Galaxy S5 to watch videos.

    Also the whole Brexit deal means people are more likely to keep using their smartphones for longer.

  26. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    for manufacturers to build repairability and recyclability into designs

    Allowing software to be more updateable would resolve a significant proportion of the problem.

  27. DougS Silver badge

    It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

    If we ever actually DO run out of so-called "rare earths" (which we won't) then the cost/benefit of recycling them to extract those materials goes up. Even if you recycle your phone they will only have a few materials from them recycled. The only ones getting a "complete" recycling are iPhones that Apple gets their hands on, since they have built robots specifically for their various models to tear them down to the most minute parts.

    Unfortunately it isn't feasible to build a "general purpose" robot that can tear apart arbitrary phones, so those you do recycle are not getting fully recycled. Maybe someday such a robot will be feasible, and then someone might pay you $5 or $10 for that 2005 Nokia in your sock drawer. Until then good on you for keeping it there instead of tossing it into the bin on its way to the landfill!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

      A better use for the old nokia's is as an emergency phone.

      both of my cars have an old nokia 6310i (in a ziplock bag) in the glove box with a bit of plastic between the battery contacts (batteries around 80% charged) and a pay as you go sim (with around £10 credit on)

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

        Maybe where you live, but around here something that old won't work. No one still supports 2G. In fact, 3G support will be gone in a little over two years at least from the big four carriers in the US. Maybe some of the smaller regional carriers will support it a bit longer, but I wouldn't count on it.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

          Voice calls don't need 2G/3G.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

        If you just need a phone to call emergency services, they don't need a SIM.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

      In a hundred years, a new industry will appear mining former landfill sites for the rare Garbagite ore.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It may actually make sense keeping devices in a drawer

      Not *yet* possible. Recyclebot v1.01 could be a solution if I add a few extra features like getaway mode (tm) and optical stealth. Also technically a machine cannot commit a crime under law and you could argue self preservation as a Three Laws defence.

  28. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Old phone = new iPod

    I like to use my phone only as a phone (and some data). This means I can leave it tucked away in a pocket when not in use with BT and WiFi off so there is always plenty of power. My previous phone is a backup for my drone tablet, a music player and a web browser when I use public WiFi. There isn't anything personal on the phone unless somebody wants to know what I listen to. The phone previous to that gets used for random mobile app stuff such as talking with a Raspberry Pi, IoT and that sort of stuff. I have my eye on a locked Phablet really cheap on eBay to use in the car with Torque. I couldn't care less that I can't get on a phone system with it. In fact, I see that as a bonus.

    By the time I deposit my old tech in the recycle box, I've pretty much squeezed it for all it's worth.

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