Mark Harris
JUST A PHONE'S THROW AWAY, 6 September 2006

Dial A for... aargh!
It might look funny but the sport is great for recycling used handsets, says Mark Harris

Tooting Bec Athletics Track on a rainy Sunday afternoon is an unlikely venue for the UK’s highest tech sport, but nearly 60 athletes are limbering up here for their shot at international stardom. There are representatives from a dozen countries as far afield as Norway, South Africa and Belize, and the event is being covered by media organisations from Denmark to South Korea. The sport? It’s Mobile Phone Throwing, and, for better or worse, it’s a sport at which the UK excels.

When I arrive, an epic battle is being fought between last year’s winner Tom Day and South African challenger Chris Hadley. Participants gets three throws apiece and, according to Tom, “It’s definitely all in the grunt.” With a mighty shout, he launches a battered Philips handset an impressive 79 metres, shattering his previous UK record and setting Chris, 27, a tough target to beat.

Phone nostalgia
Chris takes a look at the phones on offer, all supplied by Action Aid Recycling. The phones will summon a wave of nostalgia from anyone who owned a chunky ‘brick’ phone in the Nineties. You’ve got long forgotten Cellnet handsets, Motorolas with huge aerials and old-school Ericssons, all bound up in duct tape to reduce the chance of them shattering on impact – and possibly to prevent phone-tampering?

Chris opts for a battered silver Nokia and, with just a short run-up, spins it into the sky for his own record-breaking fling of 85 metres. I catch up with Chris afterwards and ask for the secret of his success: “I work for an investment bank and I’m on the phone all day. This definitely works out a bit of pent-up work aggression.”

Mobile phone throwing as a competitive sport began six years ago in Finland, the home of Nokia and still the venue for the World Championships. It has since spread throughout Europe, broadening from a simple distance discipline to include a freestyle category rewarding ‘aesthetic and creative choreography’.

In the UK, the Championship is organised by adventure sports club 8th Day UK and Action Aid Recycling. Ross Williams of 8th Day UK says, “I think it’s a reflection on how dependent we all are on our mobiles now. We love the idea of throwing them away, but when it comes down to it none of us can. This is one chance to take out the frustration of those weekend calls from the office and spam texts.”

I thought I spot some of that frustration when Katre Tuviana, 28, from Estonia, controversially slings her own phone for her final throw. Is she working out irritations, or perhaps she just has a more aerodynamic handset? She laughs: “It’s just that it’s a lot more difficult than it looks and I think I’ll throw further with my own phone. I never take my anger out on my phones – they’re my friends.”

Raising funds
Katre may be in touch with her phone’s emotional side, but few Brits share her feelings. According to Action Aid Recycling (AAR) , we upgrade our handsets on average every 18 months and there are now over 90 million unused and unloved mobiles in the UK. These discarded phones might not look cool or boast the advanced features of the latest cameraphones, but they’re still worth money to recyclers.

Piers Newsome of AAR says, “We’ll collect mobile phones irrespective of their condition. Working phones go to Eastern Europe or developing countries while those beyond repair are dismantled. Electrical components and some plastics can be reused, and all phones include small quantities of precious metals such as silver and gold.”

Action Aid Recycling collects around 15,000 phones and PDAs each year, with the money raised going to fund Action Aid’s work in developing countries around the world. Recycling phones doesn’t just make sense from a fund-raising perspective, it also reduces the environmental impact of discarded handsets, says Piers Newsome: “Put a mobile phone in the ground and it will take hundreds of years to bio-degrade, all the while leaking out polluting toxins.”

At the end of Championships, it’s good news all round. Many phones were recycled, Chris Hughff reclaimed the distance record for Britain with a throw of 92.2 metres and even Katre managed to set a new Estonian national record. It seems like making friends with your mobile can really pay off…

The true cost of staying connected
How can a tiny mobile phone be bad for the environment? Mining the materials, manufacturing the complex computer chips inside, shipping and then using your phone all take more energy than you might expect. In fact, a typical mobile will be responsible for over 120kg of emissions of greenhouse gas carbon dioxide over its lifetime – that’s more than 750 times its own weight. Recycling the phone at the end of its life can reduce that burden by 15%.

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