Looking back to 2007, the mobile industry was such a different space. iPhones, apps and the other smartphones that followed, were still early concepts for developers and consumers. As for mobile phone recycling, this was not considered part of the ecosystem that now makes up the industry– sitting awkwardly somewhere between the realms of the charity groups, dodgy second hand shops and Green advocates.
The dusty drawers that once stored all those Nokia 3310s and Motorola V3s are just beginning to empty out, and the phones coming in are definitely getting newer and newer. The message to the consumer is simple – upgrade then recycle. Or more common these days – recycle then upgrade. Customers of mobile phone recyclers are becoming loyal and increasingly looking to offset the value of their existing handset to purchase a new one.
So the consumer gets it from a value point of view. But if you asked anyone what mobile phone recycling is, you’d be hard pressed to get an answer.
For some it means taking an old phone, breaking it down and extracting its raw materials and disposing of the hazardous waste properly. For some, including us, only a handful of the phones received each day require actual recycling for parts, the rest are processed in a WEEE Authorised Treatment Facility and rehomed in various markets around the world.
This re-distribution process has now created a new link in the global mobile phone ecosystem that has revolutionised communications particularly in rural areas of the developing world.
In the early days, I would often get asked whether Mazuma Mobile was a ‘green’ charity group. The environmental aspect of mobile phone recyclers naturally forms an integral part of the strategy. The green message, although strong, is not enough to get the majority of people to recycle.
The key was to offer a very attractive value for the model of phone they had and to make the whole process easy and secure.
By obtaining the handset at an earlier stage of its product life it can be remarketed in various overseas markets. This is a win-win. The customer gets more money and the overseas buyers get a supply of attractive models.
Just as the handsets have become more sophisticated, it’s certainly become a more complex space to work in from the days of simple cash for phones – white labelling, WEEE legislation, Home Office steering groups, anti-theft legislation, data protection, dramatic fluctuations in international currencies affecting the value of handsets overseas and margins.
Mobile recycling will be an integral part of the mobile phone industry ecosystem moving forward. Just taking Mazuma as an example, two million of our phones have joined the mobile industry’s redistribution chain in the developing world and £55 million has been paid out to the customers of UK’s mobile phone operators and distributors in return for this.
The recycling industry needs to develop a stronger partnership with operators and handset retailers and move from the periphery of the industry to a core part of the customer experience. This will see higher awareness so that customers receive the maximum amount of money for their old phone, as many phones as possible are reused in developing markets and as few phones as possible become pure waste.