Apple May Join Growing, Lucrative Smartphone Recycling Market

Smartphone recycling rates may soon rise, as more new companies are willing to buy old phones. It's said that Apple will soon join them.

EleGreen, a relative newcomer to the growing smartphone recycling movement, has a focus on the upgrades of government agencies and large corporations, whether from old BlackBerry smartphones to iPhones, new BlackBerrys or Android-running devices.

EleGreen buys phones to resell them to other markets—making sure, first, that they're cleared of data, it says—or else makes sure they're recycled responsibly. It recently bought 3,000 phones from a major corporation that was refreshing its device lineup.

"Most people don't realize how much they can get for their old phone because they only look to their service provider, or the manufacturer," Spencer House, vice president of marketing and operations, said in a June 14 statement. "Our primary objective is to educate the consumer, make buy-back easy and pay top dollars for the hardware."

For a device like the iPhone 4S, eleGreen currently offers a buy-back price of $295. Given that many people pay a hardware rate of $199 to upgrade, eleGreen points out that its price would put a person ahead by nearly $100.

According to eleGreen, 400,000 cell phones are retired every day in the United States.

And according to Nokia, a veteran of the recycling scene and the creator, it says, of the "world's largest recycling network," only 9 percent of people recycle their old phones.

Ken Hyers, an analyst with Strategy Analytics, says that data security fears are the leading reason that so few phones get recycled.

"The other big reason many consumers hang onto their disused phone," he said, "is because they recognize that the devices have an intrinsic value, but they don't really have any obvious way to know what the dollar value of their old phone is, and they don't have an easy way to sell their old phones."

Offering cash incentives, companies like eleGreen are working to educate companies about their options.

Gazelle, which buys old iPods, tablets and Apple computers, in addition to a range of smartphones, says it has paid out nearly $100 million in exchange for more than 1 million devices.

Newaya, another newcomer, specifically offers "professional mobile phone data wiping for businesses," though its quotes arrive within a few hours via email from a human, versus the instantly generated offers on many of the other sites.