How to Reduce Mobile Waste

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With rumors that Apple may be upping its mobile devices output to twice-yearly releases, the number of “old,” unwanted phones and tablets is on the rise. An estimated 438 million electronic products were sold in 2009, yet only 25% of disposed electronic devices were recycled that year, according to the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report. Yet as these numbers increase — spurred by a nine-fold increase in mobile sales between 1997 and 2009 — so do our landfills.

Discarded mobile devices contain both reusable materials and potentially toxic substances, so it’s critical that companies, who often throw out thousands of devices at a time, dispose of devices properly. Businesses often turn to reuse or recycling programs, such as 1800recycling.com or e-Stewards. But what exactly happens after that? And what’s the environmental impact?

We spoke with Michele Perry, senior director of communications at Gazelle, a company that buys back devices for reuse and recycling, for an inside look into the world of reCommerce.


Chief Mobility Officer: What is the most environmentally sensitive way for a company to dispose of old employee devices?


Michele Perry: Organizations may not realize there is value in unwanted devices. These devices are easily sold to reCommerce companies which extend the lifecycle of used phones by reselling them to consumers or wholesalers. At Gazelle, we not only buy these used devices at fair market value, ensuring the organization gets extra cash to put toward the new device investment, but we also ensure that all information on the devices that may have been accidentally left behind is removed. This is a critical component for many organizations that work with highly sensitive information.

CMO: What happens to the phones you take in?

Perry: We’re focused on extending the lifecycle of a device. What this means is that when we receive a device, we inspect it to ensure it meets the specs submitted, then we remove the data because one of our top priorities is to keep our customers safe. Finally, we sell the devices to consumers or to wholesalers who may refurbish and distribute them to relevant markets, including insurance companies in the U.S. (to replace broken or lost devices), as well as to emerging or third world countries. There is an incredible market for iPhones in Asia and Brazil. Most of the time a device we receive still has a significant amount of value even if the consumer no longer wants it. Refurbishing the device and redistributing it to an emerging market is an effective and environmentally friendly way to recycle and reuse devices.

The vast majority of devices we buy are resold, but if a device cannot be reused, we recycle it, ensuring we play our part in reducing the amount of toxic waste that could end up in landfills. If we are unable to recycle a device, there are a number of locations where consumers can turn. Many towns offer special recycling days to ensure big items, like desktops and old gaming consoles, are disposed of properly.

CMO: What is the environmental impact of a program like Gazelle?

In 2012 alone, Gazelle made offers on 10 million iPhones. This is with just about 4% of the general public trading in unwanted consumer electronics. In the UK, approximately 21% of the population takes advantage of the reCommerce market. Our goal is to increase this adoption rate in the US to reach double digits in the next five years.

CMO: How have recycling and reuse programs evolved in recent years?

Perry: Two years ago, businesses and consumers alike stayed with a device for about four years before upgrading. Today, the upgrade cycle has shortened to 18-24 months.

In a survey Gazelle conducted in August 2012, the month before the launch of the iPhone 5, nearly 84% of respondents reported they planned to upgrade to the new iPhone with almost 45% explaining they planned to upgrade because they “just have to have the latest and greatest.”

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