Do Smartphones Have an Afterlife?

Author: Ed Valdez
Published: January 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Cell phone afterlife

With less than 10% of U.S. cell phones being recycled (source: IDC) each year, there’s a trend in Korea that could create a whole new market in the U.S.: certified recycled phones. Just as Samsung has the most innovative Android smartphones in the world, another Korean-based company will pave the way for recycling and reusing Android phones and iPhones: SK Telecom, Korea’s #1 Mobile Carrier.

After hiring 19 appraisers in July, 2011, SK has created a new market for secondhand mobile phone sales through its online website. As the recycling center processes over 1000 handsets per day, sales are booming. Given that the average price of a reused, certified smartphone is only 15% of the original retail price, SK expects sales to double in 2012. Smartphones such as the iPhone 3GS and Samsung Galaxy S are a few of the many handsets that are being recycled through the appraisal center. Those two models are so popular that they are sold within ten minutes of being offered at SK’s e-commerce site. To date, none of the U.S. carriers (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) have taken SK Telecom's lead to launch a program to certify and sell recycled smartphones, although they do offer recycling options.

EPA handset lifecycle

Recycling smartphones within the U.S. has become easier. According to the Environmental Protection Agency there are at least two options. You can:

  • Drop it off: AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Best Buy and other retailers enable recycling of cell phones, batteries, chargers and other accessories. AT&T’s program supports Cell Phones for Soldiers which enables active duty military to receive prepaid cards and phones for those who otherwise couldn’t contact their families. Verizon provides recycled handsets to victims of domestic violence through its Hopeline program to help prevent further abuse.
  • Mail it in: Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nokia and others provide mailing options to recycle cell phones, batteries, chargers and other accessories.

There are also 3rd party options such as e-Cycle that buy back old handsets and recycle the materials to keep hazardous waste out of landfills. Any of the above options can make a green difference: recycling one million cell phones saves enough energy to power more than 185 U.S. households with electricity for one year.


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Article Author: Ed Valdez

As a mobile/wireless industry analyst, Ed Valdez leverages his MIT background to provide mobile tech insights on trends/culture. He is co-author of Samsung 3.0: Talent, Technology & Timing. @edvaldez8888.

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