Recycling: What Goes Around Comes Around

1488 managing director Andrew Beckett talks about how to keep the recycling industry on the straight and narrow

Just five years ago, the average mobile phone was recycled for around £20. This year data shows an average handset recycling value of £105. As the average value of recycled phones has increased, so has the willingness of the public to turn these unwanted goods into cash.

In a short time, this extension of the mobile industry has become a billion pound-business in its own right. And there is every sign this growth will continue.  About 40 million handsets, worth an estimated £700 million, are still in draws and cupboards around the UK.

All of this is good news; more phones being reused or recycled means fewer ending up in landfill, where precious metals are lost and some of the more hazardous battery components risk pollution or contamination of the water supply.

The fact that users can generate revenue from what is essentially a worthwhile process, and the industry can benefit from the positive publicity associated with recycling unwanted goods, potentially raising money for charitable causes on the way, presents an opportunity for the phone recycling industry to create a virtuous circle – rewarding people for recycling, supporting good environmental practice and raising the profile of an important industry issue.

Much like the mobile industry itself, the recycling industry is growing up fast and will need to cope with growing pains on the way.  Most important will be to ensure that UK phone and gadget recycling is regarded, both at home and globally, as an industry with the highest levels of integrity and credibility.

This will be challenging. Although great strides have been taken since 2010 to ensure that stolen goods cannot be recycled, this only covers one aspect of a multitude of legal and customer services issues that could confront the industry. How do we manage customer expectation in terms of headline price offered for a recycled phone, compared to damaged or worn devices?

How does it deal with the inevitable consequences of phones lost or damaged in transit? How do we regulate the inevitable influx of companies that either do not have the moral ethics to offer decent customer service or the financial model to support the payments that they have offered? And how does the industry regulate itself to ensure that the phones it receives are recycled to a proper standard and in an ethical way?

Lastly, with more and more personal data being held on our mobiles, how do we ensure this information is protected and properly deleted from phones that are recycled?

Any of these issues could reduce the public’s trust in the benefits of recycling and were a number of these issues to become headline news in

a short time, that trust could be irrevocably broken, reducing the positive impact that phone recycling could have on the environment and people’s pockets.

As a comparison site for mobile phone recycling, faces many of these issues in its interactions with customers.  I vividly remember visiting one recycler just as Trading Standards arrived. Needless to say they did not make it on to our site.

The most effective means to develop the industry would be through the adoption of quality standards for customer service, environmental credentials and security.

A simple recognisable standard for quality would help reassure the public that they are dealing with a reliable and responsive company, that will do what it promises in an effective and timely manner.  The reality is that, if the industry is not proactive in taking this step, it is inevitable that regulation will come externally, from sources less knowledgeable than ourselves.

Away from phones, there are probably another 40 million gaming consoles, PCs, digital cameras and other electronic devices in people’s houses.  Combine this with the huge growth in the tablet market and the future looks rosy for the recycling industry. But only if it ensures it wins the trust of the public from the outset by operating to the highest possible standards.