A dozen mobile operators signed up to device re-use and recycling targets set by the GSMA, as the industry association estimated $8 billion-worth of valuable materials were stuck in abandoned handsets across the globe.

The initiative introduces pace-setting targets for those backing the scheme, part of a wider ambition to develop a circular supply chain for mobile devices.

By 2030, operator “take-back” schemes must accrue more than 20 per cent of the number of new devices it sells to customers.

All of those second-hand devices must then be repaired, reused or transferred to controlled recycling organisations.

Operators leading the GSMA project are Tele2 Group and Orange, with BT Group, Globe Telecom, GO Malta, Iliad Group, KDDI, NOS, Proximus, Safaricom, Singtel and Telefonica signed-up.

The targets are in addition to internal initiatives underway at the operators’ to cut e-waste and improve the longevity of devices.

The GSMA estimates there are 5 billion abandoned phones currently located in people’s homes and offices which, if properly recycled, could recover $8 billion worth of gold; palladium; silver; copper; rare-earth elements; and other critical minerals.

It estimates there would be enough cobalt for 10 million electric car batteries.

GSMA chief regulatory officer John Giusti stated that in “addition to the environmental benefits, more efficient and responsible use of resources could lower costs and make devices more affordable for the unconnected”.

Tele2 head of sustainability Erik Wottrich highlighted 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”.

“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.”