Project Summary

How many phones do we all own?

What do we do with those we no longer use?

Are we aware of the materials that we rely on to make our everyday technology work?

What are the short-term and long-term issues for materials supply driven by our seeming insatiable demand for the latest gadgets?

What’s In My Stuff? sets out to explore and to try and answer some of the above questions. The project seeks to engage with the public and explore the relationship between people and their gadgets. In doing so it hopes to raise public awareness of some of the emerging issues around critical materials supply, recycling and sustainability.

What’s In My Stuff? uses an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together scientists and artists in order to explore effective ways of engaging with the users of everyday technology to both seek their views and inform them of the key issues.

The initial work focuses on the ubiquitous mobile phone and involves a series of public engagement field laboratories where mobile phones are disassembled and analysed in order to find out what they are made of. Engaging participants in a practical activity which provides a sense of agency plays an important role in raising awareness. The project seeks to create an emotional connection between people and high technology devices by getting individuals to discover for themselves "What’s In My Stuff?"

This emotional connection is explored further through the making of creative artefacts and contemporary jewellery. Information from the analysis of mobile phones, data gathered from the public response to the field labs and reusing deconstructed components of the actual phones all inform and inspire the making of these objects. The artefacts themselves are then exhibited and used in public engagement activities to stimulate further thought and debate.


The value of just the precious metals in 85 million discarded phones exceeds £150,000,000

The value of just the precious metals in 85 million discarded phones exceeds £150,000,000

The “three Rs” are by now a familiar way of expressing how we should think about reducing the impact we have on the planet and its resources. However, the widespread acceptance and implementation of the principles embodied in these three words depends upon many factors.

For mobile phones we appear not to be willing or able to apply the reduce-reuse-recycle to its full extent. The barriers could include:

  • A lack of knowledge of what exactly is in the devices
  • An undervaluing of the resources within the devices
  • A lack of infrastructure for recycling
  • A reluctance to give away a device which may contain personal data
  • An emotional/sentimental attachment to the device

What’s In My Stuff? discovers what the public’s attitudes to their devices (old and new) are, and explores the reasons why we are accumulating mobile phones in the UK at a rate of about 4 million per year.