Apple May Join Growing, Lucrative Smartphone Recycling Market

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-06-17 Print this article Print

In fact, with so many companies now offering to buy used phones, one site,, aggregates their offers—a Priceline for selling used devices.

The highest price it found for a 32GB iPhone 4S was $296, from OrganicOffer, though there were five other sites offering at least $250 for the phone. SellCell points out things like the payment methods offered and whether the company includes free shipping and free packaging (they almost always do).

These companies are challenging the established players on the scene.

Sprint, through its Buyback program, has for years been encouraging customers to turn in their old phones, instead of relegating them to junk drawers and filing cabinets (its current offer for the 32GB iPhone 4S is $167). It's also happy to recycle the phones, batteries, data cards and accessories of non-customers.

Sprint reuses nine out of 10 phones it collects through its recycling programs. Since it began in 2001, it has collected nearly 50.5 million phones.

It says its refurbished phones help to meet customer demand for a "like-new phone at a lower-than-new price."

Nokia, for its part, has more aggressively emphasized the environment benefits of recycling and reusing, alongside the business benefits.

According to Nokia, a cell phone contains almost every element in the periodic table, and we've been drawing these elements from the Earth to a degree that what's left isn't of the same quality as what we've already taken out. The ores from recycled phones are "300 times richer" than those we extract today, says Nokia.

Its recycling program works to recover "100 percent of the materials" in old phones, turning them into everything from new phones to park benches.

"If everyone recycled just one [phone]," adds Nokia, "we could prevent over 370,000 tons of raw materials being taken from the earth."

Apple Rumored to Be Planning Buyback Program

The highest buyback price for a used iPhone might soon come from Apple.

According to a June 7 report from Bloomberg, Apple is planning to team with Brightstar, a distributor that handles trade-ins for AT&T and T-Mobile, to offer a recycling program.

Apple's goal, said the report, is to get iPhone 4 and 4S users to upgrade to the iPhone 5—with a buyback price of $200 or so, a customer can make the switch at no upfront cost in some cases—and then to resell the refurbished iPhones to customers in emerging markets.

With competitor Samsung's market share continuing to rise, an Apple buyback program could help to grow Apple's footprint.

It could also help to increase corporate recycling. And certainly consumer recycling.

The rumored Apple-Brightstar program would solve the issues currently preventing recycling, says Hyers, by providing phone owners with "an assured way to wipe the data from the phones while at the same time making it easy to trade the phone in towards a new model."

Neil Mawston, executive director of Strategy Analytics' Global Wireless Practice, says limited recycling awareness, low motivation, and concerns about privacy or corporate security have kept recycling figures low, and that Apple's participation could change that.

"Apple's U.S. retail stores have huge footfall of visitors, so any attempt to promote more recycling through Apple's stores will help to raise awareness of this important activity," said Mawston.

"Apple is not the first company to promote recycling of old smartphones, but Apple could be among the first to truly popularize it."

Mawston added, "We expect the recycling rate for all smartphones worldwide to increase during 2014."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.


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