Subscribe For Free

Speakers’ Corner: Businesses must do more to encourage consumers to recycle old tech products

Mobile News
January 29, 2021

There’s a growing desire from consumers to buy refurbished models, so now is the perfect time to recycle old unused handsets, says Paula Hansson, general manager at Bamboo Distribution  

Mobile phones have always had an uncomfortable relationship with the environment.

While they have become more energy efficient and displaced older power-hungry technologies, consumer demand for the latest and greatest models, coupled with a short device lifespan, has meant many smartphones are often destined for landfill after only a few years of use.

The throwaway culture has recently come in for serious criticism, and sales of new phones, like many other disposable or semi-disposable consumer goods, are declining as people think twice about their environmental impact.

This trend does not in any way diminish consumer desire for high-performance mobile technology.

Instead, there is growing momentum for refurbished and recycled devices. According to a survey from technology analyst firm CCS Insight, 60 per cent of UK respondents would consider buying a refurbished mobile phone the next time they change or upgrade.

They acknowledge that this reflects the steep price of many premium models, but this also indicates a growing sustainability awareness amongst buyers as well as an acceptance that they are not compromising on quality when purchasing a recycled phone.

New mobiles are designed with obsolescence built in. In other words, they will become outdated (or outpaced by newer models) within a given time. This does not mean that their life is over.

While manufacturers experiment with new materials and production processes to create more sustainable devices, the most ethical approach that any consumer can take is to use their phone for as long as it delivers what they need. When it’s time to replace it, look at a refurbished model.

The Green Alliance

The Green Alliance, amongst many other environmental campaigners, is encouraging a circular economy for smart devices to help them stay in use for longer. In its report – ‘A circular economy for smart devices’ – it outlines how repair makes economic and environmental sense for at least four years, and up to seven in some cases.

The report also demonstrates that keeping a mobile phone in use for just one extra year cuts its lifetime CO2 impact by a third. This is because, unlike many other electronics, mobile devices are optimised to run on battery power. Most of their environmental impact, between 60 and 85 per cent, arises from the manufacturing process. A device that lasts longer, therefore, spreads its manufacturing impact over a longer time period.

While the recycle, reuse and buyback market is growing, with forecasts from IDC predicting that it will be worth $52.7 billion by 2022, there are still challenges relating to consumer behaviour.

Unlike the well-established second-hand car market, consumers are not fully aware of where and how mobiles can be recovered, refurbished, recycled and purchased, and they are less confident about breaking old habits, despite the obvious advantages.

Businesses can lead the way

Businesses can move the dial in this respect. It is in their interests to demonstrate sustainable practices and if they are providing phones for employees to use, it makes economical, as well as environmental sense, to identify services that process their old corporate devices with a view to re-use.

Companies do need to work with a reputable partner for this process. There is the risk of a security breach from the data stored on employees’ phones, so to comply with GDPR, attention must be paid to due diligence when it comes to disposing of unwanted devices.

The key to adopting an effective recycle/re-use policy for mobile phones is to look for an end-to-end specialist service that processes devices usually considered as waste, with a view to re-use.

This service provider’s credentials should clearly demonstrate that they meet international customer and environmental standards and that they guarantee all the units that they process are connected to an automated data wipe programme and restored to factory settings to guard against data breaches.

Dust off old phones

The outlook for the trade-in market for mobile phones is very promising. Increasing adoption of recycled phones by businesses will help to create awareness amongst consumers that they can safely dispose of their old units, currently cluttering up drawers and cupboards, without them being treated as scrap or going to landfill.

In addition, as mobile hardware innovation slows down and the market becomes even more saturated, price becomes a more important driver.

As the Green Alliance Circular Economy report said: “Taken together, market saturation and the slowing pace of technology change for high end models suggest that the next round of smartphone sales could be served by lower cost, lower specification, second-hand devices.”

Now is the time to dust off those old, abandoned phones and give them a new lease of life.

Paula Hansson is the general manager Bamboo Distribution, a consumer electronics company specialising in refurbished and recycled devices

Share this article