Around eight million mobile phones were recycled in the UK in 2009 according to Ovum, which is double the number that was recycled two years ago.
A new report by the global industry analyst suggests that while UK consumers are increasingly aware of the opportunities to recycle phones, the focus now tends to be on the financial rather than environmental benefits.
The UK is the most developed and competitive handset recycling market in the world. Ovum estimates that over a quarter (26.5%) of the 30.2 million devices recycled in Western Europe in 2009 were from the UK.
Jeremy Green, practice leader for mobile at Ovum and report co-author, said: “The UK has seen an influx of online players that offer cash for old mobile phones.
“This increase in competition has resulted in a more cut throat market and a commercial business model that has moved away from the original intention of responsible recycling and reducing landfill.”
The rise of specialists such as Envirofone means consumers increasingly recognise the value in old mobile phones, to the detriment of operator-led collection schemes and charities which cannot compete on price.
Two years ago the majority of reusable handsets were destined to end up in Africa. However, most are now sold via auctions in Hong Kong, which appears to be the hub for handset resale. The sale of devices to third-party wholesalers via auctions means the majority of handsets are no longer traceable after this point.