Consumers in developed countries are gradually taking a more responsible attitude to mobile phone disposal. Instead of carelessly discarding them in the rubbish, they are increasingly selling their mobiles to mobile phone recycling companies for cash. The majority of handsets end up in the third world and many are reused. However, what often happens when they reach the end of their useful life is disturbing. Many in developing countries try and eke out an existence sifting through piles of electronic waste and in doing so are exposed to dangers that could ultimately cost them their lives.
Plastic cables are routinely burnt to get at the copper inside and the smoke produced contains toxic substances that can damage lungs. Some chemicals are cancer-causing and heavy metals such as lead and mercury frequently contaminate soil and potentially groundwater.
This growing problem has been recognised and steps are being taken to educate people in how to extract components safely and without detriment to their health and the environment. Imparting this technical knowledge to workers who are often illiterate and disinclined to be educated presents a challenge. A flexible approach that provides maximum accessibility has been adopted and graphic examples are used showing the consequences of poor working practices, including visual images of resulting illnesses.