Don’t chuck out your old mobile phones.

8 Sep 2015

Every year NZ imports millions of mobile phones and tablets. The old ones can be responsibly reused and recycled.

In this guest post Sam Fairhall, Managing Director of Fonebank Recycling, discusses the business merits of recycling mobiles.

Mobile devices are the biggest growth driver in tech history and they just keep on giving. But the growth in the mess they leave behind also grows if they’re not recycled as mobile e-waste should be. How could we as individuals or businesses not want to reduce toxic seepage from landfills - including mercury, arsenic, chemical flame retardants and lead? What’s not to be applauded by enabling product life extension and reducing the mining required to support the ever growing mobile world? Fonebank is a company committed to the business of responsible mobile phone and tablet recycling, firstly through mobile device reuse, and secondly through refurbishment and/or recycling

People in developing countries want and need mobile phones. New devices cost too much, while second hand are affordable. Fishermen, often in light weight skiffs, now use mobile phones to figure out in which African town they should land; mothers keep better track of their children; businesses with connectivity grow faster than those that don’t; doctors and nurses can deliver better, safer, faster health services and there can be enormous education benefits.

There’s also increasing use of secondhand smart phones in First World countries, where the cost of the bleeding edge is too much for many. They’re happy with a refurbished phone or tablet that’s a generation or two older.

Recycling comes in (inevitably) when a phone reaches end of life. Recycling of components and safe disposal of nasty stuff means no more phones or tablets leaching toxins into our landfill.

Estimates of the number of mobile devices properly recycled around the world varies between a tragic four per cent and 17 per cent but even at the top end of that range there’s an awful lot not accounted for. Most are ‘too good to throw out’ so go into a drawer (where they increasingly lose value and become obsolete and eventually get thrown in the rubbish).

How’s New Zealand doing? Subjectively (because accurate facts and figures are not published or don’t exist) the number of mobile devices recovered in the New Zealand market is towards the bottom end of the range. For a country that promotes a clean, green image this is a brand damaging performance. We can’t go on like this. Not with an estimated 3.5 million new phones imported every year. Not with mobile phones generally being replaced every 18 to 24 months.

A clear problem with mobile device recycling is a general lack of awareness that (a) there’s a mechanism for it and (b) there’s good value in many surplus mobile phone and tablet inventories. Fonebank quoted one company in South Australia $79,000 for its 1,200 surplus devices and many of those were quite old and not worth much. That’s money that can be used for fleet cost mitigation, charitable donation, or both. To follow this recycling path is smart business from pretty much any perspective.

Fonebank pays good money for the mobile devices it buys and then on sells to make a profit. But underneath that is a team that firmly believes in the circular economy – and in the Sustainable Business Network’s efforts to embed that ethos in the country’s psyche.

Fonebank started in New Zealand by working with a major mobile phone supplier that uses our software buyback solution, creating happy customers who can get a healthy rebate on their next device or contract.

We work with businesses, local government and charitable causes. In the near future our service will be available to the public via the web, as we do in Australia (www.fonebank.com.au). Whoever we work with, a core principle is to make it easy for our customers. Our systems are flexible and can adapt to customer requirements and systems. We welcome enquiries.

Sam Fairhall, Managing Director, Fonebank Recycling

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