Reducing e-Waste: The Many Benefits of Extended Mobile Device Lifecycles

Posted by Linda Serges on Apr 22, 2019 8:30:00 AM

Reducing e-WasteWhat happens to your old mobile device when you’re ready for an upgrade? In the past, most consumers would toss old devices in a drawer or throw them in the trash.

But times are changing. Even though consumers are holding onto their devices for an average of 2 years and 9 months, maturing trade-in programs are creating a robust secondary market for mobile devices.

Studies show that 95% of adult Americans own a mobile phone of some kind. And as adoption of other wireless devices like tablets and smartwatches continues to rise, it’s more important than ever to properly support the secondary market.

When it comes to mobile devices avoiding landfills, the environmental benefits are the first that come to mind. But if you take a closer look, you’ll see there are both economic and social advantages to recycling and reusing mobile devices, too.

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The Critical Need to Reduce Mobile Device E-Waste

It’s been about 5 years since the EPA conducted an in-depth study on mobile device recycling and e-waste. But a more recent United Nations study has shown that the situation has not necessarily improved over the years.

Across the Americas, there’s just a 17% collection rate for electronic devices that have been disposed of. And as a result, over 25% of the world’s e-waste (11.3 metric tons annually) comes from the United States, Canada, Central America, and South America.

This problem is entirely avoidable. With the right processes, we can unlock the environmental benefits of proper recycling and reuse of mobile devices. According to the EPA:

  • Recycling 100 million smartphones can save 2kW of energy each—enough to power 25,000 homes for a full year.
  • For every million cell phones recycled, we recover 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium.

As mobile devices continue to play an increasingly critical role in society, proper reuse and recycling will serve as a fundamental component of environmental sustainability.

Social Benefits of Increasing the Lifecycle of Mobile Devices

The changes we implement to make the mobile device market more environmentally friendly bring additional social benefits that extend beyond environmental impact.

Studies in the United Kingdom show that embracing circular economy principles do more than just keep devices from going to waste. The Green Alliance report says that “expanding the circular economy could create 205,000 new jobs in the UK alone. Because it can address labour market skill gaps and regional unemployment, 54,000 of these jobs could be net jobs by 2030, bringing people back into employment.”

And it’s not just about large-scale social advantages. Giving mobile devices second and even third lives can drive down costs and make new and used devices more affordable for consumers. Even recycling can lead to cost advantages for consumers as manufacturers spend less on raw materials.

When devices waste away in drawers and landfills, they’re of no value to anyone. Rather, improper disposal and reuse result in harmful e-waste as well as missed opportunities for societal improvement.

Economic Benefits of Decreasing Mobile Device Waste

In the past, businesses neglected proper recycling in the mobile device industry because they couldn’t see the economic opportunity. While green operations and social improvement should be beneficial enough, the reality is that money is a powerful motivator.

Embracing a circular economy model for mobile devices isn’t just an idealistic means of achieving sustainability. It provides tangible, immediate economic benefits that can’t be ignored.

Our own trade-in trends report  showcase the kinds of economic opportunities you can expect from proper recycling and reuse. In 2018, $2.266B was returned to consumer hands through mobile device trade-in programs. Additionally:

  • By 2025, the secondary market for mobile devices is expected to be worth $39B—almost double the $20B it was worth in 2017
  • At an average value of $145, proper recycling for the 56 million devices that end up in drawers or landfills can deliver an additional $8.1B of value annually

Put the Infrastructure in Place to Properly Repurpose and Recycle Mobile Devices

The only way to unlock all three types of benefits of extending the lifespan of mobile devices is to have the right infrastructure in place. That means building out an efficient trade-in program that includes comprehensive device collection and reverse logistics.

However, there are many nuances to the secondary market for mobile devices and if it were so easy to create a circular economy, it would have been done years ago.

But with the right tools and processes, you can do your part to achieve the environmental, social, and economic benefits of proper recycling and reuse.

If you want to learn how HYLA can help you create the most effective trade-in program, contact us today.

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Topics: Recycling

About This Blog

The HYLA Mobile blog is a place for thoughtful dialogue that will ultimately change the perception of “used” phones around the world. Visit the HYLA website to learn more.

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