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In 2007, 60 percent of all cellphones purchased worldwide will be replacement phones, according to a new report from ABI Research. The report, entitled “Handset Recycling and Refurbishment,” makes clear that this huge turnover is also a huge economic opportunity — it forecasts that by 2012, […]

Phones
In 2007, 60 percent of all cellphones purchased worldwide will be replacement phones, according to a new report from ABI Research. The report, entitled “Handset Recycling and Refurbishment,” makes clear that this huge turnover is also a huge economic opportunity — it forecasts that by 2012, the market for recycled handsets will generate over $3 billion in revenue.

By weight, a cellular phone is about 25 percent metal, mostly copper, but also considerable amounts of silver, gold, palladium, and platinum. Yet in 2003, only 1 percent of discarded handsets were recycled.

cell phone break downHandsets simply have not been designed to be easily recycled. The current “recycling” process all-too often involves simply burning the plastic casings away so that precious metals can be pried out by hand. Handset manufacturers, however, are getting better, and the ABI report specifically sites the efforts of Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung and LG, all of whom are designing mobile phones that are easier to recycle and contain a minimum of hazardous elements.

All of this bodes well for the growing e-waste recyclers. Handset-specific recyclers, like ReCellular, Fonebak, and Eazyfone are flourishing in a niche market while bigger recyclers like BuyMyTronics are constantly adding more recyclable devices to their list.

Good thing, too: A Geological Survey Fact Sheet estimates that by 2009 there will be 2.6 billion handsets in use globally, with 1 billion units sold in that year alone. We have a lot of handset recycling ahead of us.

cell phone life cycle

By Craig Rubens

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  1. National Geographic has a feature in their Jan. issue called “High-tech Trash” about where like cellphones, tvs and computers go to die. Most of them end up being exported to developing countries where they are “recycled” by being dumped in huge smoldering piles picked over by barefoot children looking for precious metals:
    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2008-01/high-tech-trash/carroll-text.html

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  2. Thanks Marilyn. That is a great article. I just read it myself. The photos of children working in toxic smoke pulling out copper wiring are so very National Geographic.

    I also wanted to put in another plug for GOOD Magazine’s short video about e-waste.

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  3. I think it is great that the cell phone industry is responding to the growing demand for a more easily recycled phone. A little bit of a slow down in the introduction of a new better model of super cool must have it or you’re a loser model every six weeks , may also slow down the landfill mountain of cell phone plastic we now see piling up.

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  4. [...] global e-waste market is forecast to grow to $11 billion by 2009, with $3 billion in cell phones alone. Startups and even some retailers have been working to get in on this business but manufacturers [...]

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  5. [...] Rubens of GigaOm’s earth2tech has a very nice post titled “Big Green Business of Cellphone Recycling“ with lots of useful [...]

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  6. [...] we’ll keep nagging you as it’s not only good for the planet, but is projected to be a $3 billion-a-year business by as early as 2012. Even the EPA has asked you [...]

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  7. Go Green for Schools is a cell phone recycling program provided by Qwest which recycles cell phones responsibly while also raising money for education. All money raised is donated to preK-12 education initiatives in the states from which the phones were collected. For more information or to print a prepaid label for shipping your phone go to http://www.qwest.com/gogreenforschools .

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