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Smartphone Manufacturers Make Progress on Recycling

Momentum has gathered on reconditioned models that can be put back on the market, and the recycling of plastics and rare metals used in their manufacture

South Korea's Samsung Electronics on Thursday reported a 12% rise in quarterly profit due mainly to demand for high-margin memory chips.
Samsung's operating profit is likely have fallen to $1.56 billion in the July-September quarter, industry watchers predict.


Smartphone manufacturers have promised to do better when it comes to recycling and reconditioning their products, responding to pressure from environmental campaigners.

The sector has picked up momentum over the past few years, both in reconditioned models that can be put back on the market, and in the recycling of plastics and rare metals used in their manufacture.

According to Persistence Market Research (PMR), 11% of smartphones sold worldwide are reconditioned models, a lower rate than other electronic products but one that is nevertheless rising.

That upward trend is due to “improvements in the methods of repairing smartphones, grading, collection, and online/offline selling”, PMR said.

“More and more players are putting recycling programmes in place because of the regulatory pressure and pressure from consumers,” Thomas Husson, principal analyst at Forrester, said.

“We are still at low rates, but it is starting to take off,” he added.



But that progress is not enough for environmental activists. “Of all the electronic waste, only 20% is recycled, when in reality we could recover much more,” Claudia Bosch of the Catalan social justice campaign group SETEM Federación said.

“We could do a lot more,” said Bosch, one of the organisers of the Mobile Social Congress, running in parallel with the main event, which is focused on human rights issues and sustainability.

A lot of companies have sprung up over the past few years and moved into the recycling market.

They include Back Market, which sells refurbished electronic goods; Fairphone, which makes what it says is the world’s most repairable smartphone; and reCommerce, which sells reconditioned smartphones, tablets and games consoles.

Now even the major players in the smartphone industry are entering this part of the market. Apple and Samsung have both committed to growing their share of recycled products and now have their own recycling operations.

“The capacity to recycle smartphones has become an important factor for all manufacturers, but also for operators,” Husson said. “Their image is at stake and everyone is trying to set themselves apart.”


  • AFP, with editing by George Russell





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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.


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