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.
Handsets 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.